'There's nothing I like better than a lively crowd, but sometimes things can turn ugly. If they go storming onto the floor, you've got mass chaos.'
--Val Popov, Villa Park Coach
'When you take your team on the road, you shouldn't have to be concerned with their safety. You shouldn't have to be concerned with some maniacs coming out of the stands and clobbering one of your kids.'
--Mike Dinneen, St. Paul coach
Most spectators do not expect to see a fight when they attend a high school basketball game.
But a few thousand local fans have seen games disintegrate into punching and shoving matches this season, as episodes of violence on the basketball court took an upswing in Orange County.
On the other hand, most basketball players do not expect to see spectators pouring onto the court during the game. But several high school teams have been engulfed by volatile fans when disputes broke out this season.
"Things are getting out of hand these days, no question," said Stan Thomas, an administrator with the Tustin Unified School District. "Recently, you're seeing and hearing more about it."
Villa Park Coach Val Popov said: "There does seem to be an overabundance of altercations. We've had a number of them in our league.
" . . . I don't think we have a different kind of kid, but I think the crowds have been more into it this season, for one thing.
"There's nothing I like better than a lively crowd, but sometimes things can turn ugly. If they go storming onto the floor, you've got mass chaos."
More than a dozen games in the 1985-86 season in the county have been marred by outbreaks of fighting among players and fans.
"Athletes today are bigger, stronger and meaner and there's more emphasis placed on winning," said Jim Reames, coach at Foothill High School.
After an informal survey of 25 Orange County coaches, incidents were documented in the Century League (5), the Angelus League (3), the Empire League (2), the Sunset League (2) and the Sea View League (1).
These numbers reflect instances in which players got into fights that resulted in ejections or required intervention by coaches, officials or administrators, and often included fans.
Common sense may suggest that the teams in fights are those frustrated over poor seasons and their lack of success. But five of the teams involved in seven incidents were ranked among the county's Top 10 teams.
In one situation, a player on the Sunset League champion Ocean View team reportedly bumped a referee during an argument in a hallway after a loss to Capistrano Valley in a Tournament of Champions game.
In another case, a player from Santa Ana, the Century League champion, allegedly head-butted and punched a Servite guard in the locker room after the Friars' victory at the Katella Classic Dec. 28.
According to a letter that the Servite player's parents wrote the CIF Southern Section office, their son's nose was almost broken and emergency room fees cost $370.
Some coaches are disturbed by the increase of fighting, which so far has only resulted in a few black eyes and an occasional trip to the emergency room. Other coaches downplay its significance.
But an Angelus League game at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance 10 days ago brought into focus the potentially explosive nature.
With 3:46 to play in a close game, a dispute occurred and a group of spectators poured onto the court, where a full-fledged melee broke out, injuring three St. Paul players.
Guard Jeff Willis suffered a blow to the back of his head and another, and center Matt Willig was knocked to the floor and kicked in the face. Willis later required seven stitches in his scalp and Willig required 17 stitches in his face.
A third Swordsman, point guard John Scott, was hit in the head and knocked unconscious by a chair hurled out of the stands.
"From the distance and how hard it was thrown, it looked like it could have killed somebody," said Dean Crowley, a Southern Section administrator.
The Southern Section is not alone in investigating the incident; the police are looking into filing charges against some of the perpetuators.
Bishop Montgomery elected to forfeit the game to St. Paul.
It is hardly the kind of memory high school days are supposed to be made of, but it is a scene the St. Paul players and their coach will not soon forget.
"It was frightening," said St. Paul Coach Mike Dinneen. "When you take your team on the road, you shouldn't have to be concerned with their safety. You shouldn't have to be concerned with some maniacs coming out of the stands and clobbering one of your kids."
Dinneen said there were no boosters and no security guards. Administrators? "None that were visible," he said.
In Orange County, one administrator who took action to curb the potential for violence was Thomas. He was formerly principal at Foothill, which had a rowdy cheering section nicknamed "Reamers' Screamers."