SOUTHBRIDGE — An official with the local Pop Warner football program today defended the Southbridge team’s conduct during a Sept. 15 game in which five rival players between the ages of 10 and 12 suffered concussions.
“It is not the duty nor the responsibility of the Southbridge coaching staff to monitor the ways in which their opponents manage their teams,’’ Philion said during a news conference at McMahon Memorial Field.
He said Tantasqua’s head coach and league president should have stopped the game after four of their players were seriously hurt after the sixth play, bringing the number of available players on their side below the minimum allowable total of 16.
“The unfortunate decision that was made that day [by the Tantasqua coach and president] was to continue the game with the remaining players, despite the fact that after only six plays, they were down to just 13 players fulfilling 22 positions on the field,’’ Philion said.
He added, “Having less than 16 players covering every position in a football game places each one of them at risk … Southbridge Pop Warner was not notified that [Tantasqua] had less than the minimum number of players allowed or that there were injured players on the sideline. We did not receive this information from the officials, the EMTs or the [Tantasqua] coaching staff.’’
Philion also disputed reports that Southbridge violated the so-called “mercy rule’’ which took effect after they jumped out to a 28-0 lead.
And though initial reports said the final score was 52-0, Philion said after the news conference that the actual tally was 34-0. He took no other followup questions.
He said during the news conference that the mercy rule does not require that play stop when the 28-point threshold is reached, but rather that the style of play must be altered.
“When Southbridge Pop Warner reached the 28-point threshold … the coaching staff immediately made the necessary adjustments in order to maintain compliance by, among other things, pulling their starters, running only between the tackles, refraining from all passing and outside running plays, and frequently substituting players into the game.’’
He said the team also punted on first down, ran out of bounds instead of down the field, and instructed the officials to throw a penalty flag if a Southbridge player appeared to have a chance to score.
All of the Tantasqua players who suffered concussions missed time from school. Four of the five have since been medically cleared to return to the field.
After a hearing last week, league officials permanently banned the three game officials, and suspended both coaches for the season. Patrick Inderwish, president of the Central Massachusetts Pop Warner league, said the coaches “exhibited conduct unbecoming of a Pop Warner coach.’’
Philion today expressed “heartfelt concern’’ for the injured Tantasqua players, while also defending the Southbridge youths.
“As we mentioned at the hearing, if you just took the time to sit down and talk to these 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old little boys, you’d see what we see,’’ he said. “Good kids with good hearts who need Pop Warner in their lives for many reasons. We’re proud of our boys and we stand behind them.’’