MOT youth football tournament cancels final games

MIDDLETOWN — A large-scale youth football tournament was shortened Sunday after unruly spectators required multiple police responses by three agencies, officials said Tuesday.

The final two games of the 31-team Big East All-American Bowl event hosted by the MOT Youth Football and Cheer organization were canceled following supposedly violent spectator behavior and player fights.

Delaware State Police and officers from New Castle County and Middletown were called to the Appoquinimink High School athletic complex when tensions mounted during the afternoon.

The National Youth Football Championships, scheduled for this weekend in Middletown, were thus canceled due to safety concerns for the participants and attendees, MOT Youth Football and Cheer President Ken Anderson said.

Last Sunday’s 8-U and 14-U title showdowns were nixed due to continuing misbehavior, Mr. Anderson said.

“As it got into the most competitive elimination games the fans behavior grew worse and worse,” he said.

Mr. Anderson said out-of-staters caused most of the trouble, both verbally and physically. All the misbehavior unfolded at the AHS venue at 1080 Bunker Hill Road, he said. Other games were played without incident at Cavalier Stadium about 2 1/2 miles away, he said.

According to Mr. Anderson, a cap-wearing 67-year-old referee was reportedly pummeled by three people who jumped out of a vehicle during a break between games.

The unknown assailants then returned to their vehicle and fled, he said.

“His face was all bruised up, they worked him over pretty good,” Mr. Anderson said of the referee.

A New Jersey squad and its supporters, among others, was a leading instigator of the problems, Mr. Anderson said.

After a 14-U contest, teams brawled following claims that some players attempted to knock others out with big hits, according to Mr. Anderson. Another agitated coach reportedly threatened a referee with violence in the parking lot after a game.

“I’ve been in this for 19 years and I’ve never seen the total lack of disrespect or authority or the very violent nature of what was happening,” Mr. Anderson said. “This is youth sports, which is supposed to be a place of safety for the kids and none of that was on display by the people there who kept acting up.”

Delaware State Police said the first response came at approximately 12:50 p.m. when a fan was reportedly becoming disorderly towards a referee.

“Upon troopers arrival the situation had been resolved, as the fan in question had already left the complex,” spokesman Master Cpl. Michael Austin said. “The referee was not assaulted and had resumed officiating another game, and desired no further action be taken.”

On-field fights between players prompted police responses at 2:01 p.m. and 6:07 p.m. Cpl. Austin said State Police were assisted by the two other law enforcement agencies.

”Upon police arrival the fights were no longer in progress and all parties were separated,” said Cpl. Austin.

Police said event organizers were directed to cancel the remaining games due to the multiple responses.

“The officers on scene monitored the complex as it was cleared, which occurred without incident,” Cpl. Austin said.

Police said no injuries or arrests occurred during the three incidents they investigated.

Mr. Anderson said off-duty police officers volunteered to provide security during the event. He approximated that up to 1,000 spectators attended throughout the day, coming and going for games.

The tournament’s opening session on Saturday kicked off well, Mr. Anderson said, despite a steady snowfall at times that required staff to clear bleachers and fields at both high school venues.

“I thought we would be OK, but a few bad apples ruined it for everyone,” Mr. Anderson said of the second day’s disruptions.

Coming to Middletown

Besides Delaware, teams traveled to Middletown from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. for the tournament involving kids ages 7 to 14. There were 36 teams bracketed for this upcoming weekend’s now shuttered event.

The tournaments were billed as not only a great opportunity for the young athletes to compete against regional competition but also an economic boost to the area with hundreds of arriving visitors booking hotels, spending money on food and fuel while they visited the First State.

“It was heartbreaking for everyone involved to call it off,” Mr. Anderson said. “We fell on our sword for the kids, and their safety had to come first.”

The canceled 8-U championship game involved the Prince Georges Bears and Dover-based 302 Savage, followed by a 14-U title contest between the host MOT Cavs and Long Island Elite.

Mr. Anderson lamented not being able to further investigate teams before admitting them to the tournament. He said MOT leadership organized the tournament to avoid the negative issues their teams had experienced at other venues out of state in the past few years.

Leading up to the event, MOT promoted in all capital letters that “THESE TOURNAMENTS ARE GOING TO BE THE BEST TOURNAMENT YOU WILL FIND.

“WE WILL FOCUS ON CREATING A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT AND EXPERIENCE FOR ALL PLAYERS AND FAMILIES!”

On Friday the league hosted a pep rally involving all participating teams as a show of fellowship and commitment to provide the kids “a good safe environment that promotes proper values and stands for something.”

Teams paid $295 to enter the tournament, with a three-game minimum guaranteed.

Mr. Anderson said he received compliments from multiple visiting teams about how the tournament was run, despite the problems.

This may likely be the last large scale event that MOT undertakes, Mr. Anderson said.

“If we can look it over and find a way to insure safety for everyone then maybe we would, but I’m not sure that can be done,” he said.

The organization put a message on its Facebook page that read:

“MOT family and friends, we are sorry to announce that we are canceling next weeks tournament.

“We are heartbroken that a few adults, who have no affiliation with MOT, got out of control and ruined it for everyone. We believe this is the best decision to make at this point for MOT players and coaches.

“To stop any rumors that have started, there were no guns, no ambulance, simply parents who were unable to control themselves, who were not a part of MOT, and most definitely did not represent MOT character and values. The police were called and it was handled.

“We are sorry for any inconvenience, but we are so proud of our MOT players and coaches! We are already looking forward to next season. Thank you for a great year!”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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