Technically, it isn’t a Wilton story. Then again, it really isn’t a story that belongs to any one place, simply because it happens in so many of them.
Late in the fourth quarter of last Monday night’s boys basketball game between Greenwich and New Canaan, a referee called a charging foul against a New Canaan player. The call was questionable, and the New Canaan players clearly weren’t thrilled, with one of them flinging his hands in the air as a symbol of exasperated protest. But that show of displeasure was too mellow for one New Canaan parent: He left his seat and committed a charging foul of his own, racing down the bleachers to yell at the referee.
The man was ejected from the game and escorted out of the gym by police.
On Monday night, the incident took place in New Canaan. Last summer it was in Oxford, where a Wilton assistant coach and parent got into an argument with an umpire during a summer league baseball game and was captured on a cell phone video yelling at the umpire and calling him a moron. The umpire was also culpable — he had reportedly poked the assistant coach in the chest before the filming started — but it was the brief video of the angry assistant coach that became a minor Internet hit and left the lasting impression.
In the summer of 2011 it was in Wilton, where a coach from the Ridgefield Rebels girls travel softball program and his wife (both from New Canaan) were charged with breach of peace following an argument with the chief umpire, who alleged that the coach struck him in the jaw.
In previous years, it’s been in countless other places. In years to come, it will be in more countless other places. Sporting events are hard-wired with competition, competition makes people emotional, emotional people too often have trouble keeping control, and a lack of control results in videos and stories and ejections and arrests and humiliation.
Monday night’s game between New Canaan and Greenwich was a big one, with Greenwich in contention for the last berth in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference tournament and New Canaan needing a win to keep its state tournament hopes alive. It was also a close game, which Greenwich won in overtime, 47-43. Those factors likely added to the tension, making the charging call seem extra important.
Of course, certain words are relative when it comes to sports. Even the biggest and most important games — the Super Bowl, the World Cup final, Game 7 of the World Series — are not all that big and important, except perhaps for team owners and players or others directly affected by outcomes. A win or a loss at those stages may be considered extra joyful or painful for fans, but their lives soon proceed as they had been proceeding before the game. A T-shirt commemorating a championship isn’t magical enough to change the life of the fan underneath it.
But how those lives are proceeding is often the root cause of boorish behavior at games. Problems at work, or in marriages, or with children don’t get checked at the gymnasium door; they enter, and sometimes they erupt when a call late in a big game goes the other way. Sports are commonly referred to as an escape, but sometimes they double as accelerant, providing kindling for previously submerged dissatisfaction.
What’s the answer? A strict zero-tolerance policy from schools? Mandatory fan etiquette sessions from booster clubs? Deep breathing time-outs for fans? Piped-in aromatherapy?
Maybe there is no answer. Or perhaps it lies in realizing the potential for embarrassment and using that as self-restraining device. Instead of hearing his father proudly say, “That’s my boy,” at Monday night’s game, the New Canaan player was the one who had to sheepishly admit, “Yep, that’s my dad.”