It was halftime during a May basketball game of 9- and 10-year-olds in Tarzana when referee Burt Nelson was last verbally assaulted by a parent.
An irate man approached him, yelling profanities and demanding that another youngster on the court be ejected from the game for knocking down his son.
"He got in my face. There was a lot of profanity. He said the kid was a cheap shot artist and told me I didn't have control of the game," Nelson recalled.
A few weeks earlier, Nelson was officiating a game when a parent-coach threw a ball and pencil at a referee, just missing him.
Alarmed at such incidents, the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission president has proposed that adults be required to promise good sportsmanship when enrolling their children in city youth sports leagues.
Steven Soboroff, who is also a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, would require parents to sign a document promising to behave at sports events.
"There is a nationwide outbreak of parents who are overly aggressive, not only toward the coaches and referees but also toward other parents in the stands," Soboroff said. "It causes not only embarrassment for the kids but also sets a bad role model for kids to see their parents fighting in the stands."
The proposal quickly won support from city parks officials who run sports leagues, as well as referees who work the games.
"It's a good idea," said Ed Bates, the north San Fernando Valley recreation supervisor. "It gives the parents an opportunity to buy into the fact that they have certain rights and responsibilities when their children are involved in youth sports."
"The parks do a good job of holding coaches accountable. If they also hold the parents accountable, they will be more sportsmanlike and pass that on to their kids," said Nelson, who has refereed youth sports for 13 years.
More than 57,000 youngsters participate annually in city-sponsored basketball, baseball, softball and flag-football games. Last year there were 16 incidents in which parents misbehaved to the point that parks officials investigated.
Bates said there are dozens of other incidents each year in which a parent is verbally abusive, but stops after being admonished by a city official or referee.
"There are parents that have bad attitudes," Bates said. "I think maybe there are more of them [today] and people have a lower tolerance.
Coaches in city leagues already sign codes of conduct that allow their suspension for misconduct, and referees may hold coaches responsible for misbehaving parents, up to and including forfeiture of the game.
Ellen Oppenheim, the general manager of the city Recreation and Parks Department, told the Parks Commission in a report that conflicts are "not a significant problem" in Los Angeles, given the number of incidents compared with the number of participants.
Still, in response to Soboroff's concerns, Oppenheim proposed that parents be required to sign a document indicating that they understand and accept the existing rules of conduct.
Soboroff said he will ask the Parks Commission on Aug. 4 to require parents to promise their children they will behave. The oath should be to the child, not the city, he said.
"I want the little girl with the pigtails to look up at her father and say, 'Dad, you promised me you wouldn't do that,' " Soboroff said. "That's enough for me. I don't have to do anything more."
Soboroff, who has declared his intent to run for mayor in 2001, said he got the idea from an incident he witnessed while attending a youth basketball game involving one of his daughters.
Soboroff said other sports leagues have also wrestled with the issue.
The city of Santa Clarita recently began mailing a "Parent/Spectator Code of Conduct" to all parents who sign their children up for youth sports. "I will treat the players, coaches, officials and other fans with respect," the code states, noting that violations may result in suspension from league play.
Similar codes of conduct have been adopted by the American Youth Soccer Organization, and some chapters of the organization require parents to sign them.
Little League Baseball Inc. constantly reminds parents of the need to be good sports but does not require them to sign an oath of sportsmanship, said John Lally, assistant director for the western region.
Referees welcomed Soboroff's proposal, but questioned whether it will be effective.
"Coaches sign those things as well but they don't always abide by them," said William Smith, an 18-year veteran of umpiring youth baseball games.