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Mt. Pleasant youth football league’s cancellation over bullet threat offers difficult lesson | TribLIVE.com
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Mt. Pleasant youth football league’s cancellation over bullet threat offers difficult lesson

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Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
The entrance gates of Hurst Field, in Norvelt, where teams with the Mount Pleasant Area Junior Football League play their season, remain locked after firearm shells with league officials names written on them were left at the entrance overnight. The season has been cancelled due to the threat and is under investigation.

Lainie Allen likes the sportsmanship and teamwork lessons her children got from playing and cheerleading in a junior football league.

But now she and other parents are using the abrupt cancellation of the Mt. Pleasant Area Junior Football League’s season as a different kind of example for their children — a lesson in how sports should not be played.

“It’s been a learning experience for my kids, and for my husband and myself to try to talk to them about this,” Allen said.

Four gun shells were found with the names of officials and referees written on them outside the field where games are played, causing the 50-year-old league for 6- to 12-year-olds to cancel its season with four games remaining.

The shells apparently were the culmination of complaints and anonymous threats made by someone involved with the league who is disgruntled with league officials and officiating during the season, according to police and some parents involved in the program.

“I was shocked that anybody would think to do something as serious as what they did,” Allen said. “Whoever is doing this is taking it way too far.”

State police have not identified any suspects in an investigation that started about a week ago when the shells were found at the gate of Hurst Field in Norvelt.

“We’re continuing to investigate a number of leads we have received, but we have nothing substantive at this point,” Trooper Steve Limani said last week. “We do believe whoever (left the shells) is definitely affiliated with the program. … Who else would do that?”

It’s unclear what led to the threats, but some involved in the organization have pointed to an altercation among a few parents and league officials at a recent game.

Carrie Lesniak’s 11-year-old son accompanied her to a Shaft Cardinals meeting shortly after the cancellation was announced.

“His eyes got pretty big, and he shook his head in disbelief,” Lesniak said. “He’s upset about it, but he understands. I’m disappointed that opportunity was taken from him.”

What’s harder for parents to comprehend is why someone would commit a criminal act over complaints with a league designed to teach kids sportsmanship.

“I just hope the person realizes the amount of embarrassment” they’re causing to the league and their family, Lesniak said.

The league is made up of two divisions with rosters numbering about 150 children.

Officials have not returned repeated calls seeking comment about problems in the league since the season was canceled. But officials in other youth leagues in the region say parents complaining about officiating or coaching is a common problem.

“They just want to blame somebody,” said Bill Young, president of the South Greensburg Bulldogs Football Association. “I think parents are trying to relive their youth.”

Usually, just talking with rowdy parents is enough to calm them down, and the problem typically doesn’t escalate to anonymous threats, he said.

“I feel sorry for the kids that worked during preseason, that worked during the practices,” Young said. “Now a couple parents ruined it for how many kids in that league? That’s sad.”

The Greater 19 Youth Football League — with teams from Bethel Park, Canon McMillan, Keystone Oaks, Norwin, Peters, Seneca Valley, South Fayette and South Park — has taken a proactive step to avoid problems caused by disgruntled parents. The league for a second year has taken videos of all games — including what goes on in the stands, said G19 President Joe Scarillo.

“We’re all under the eye now,” he said, noting that parents spotted acting badly during a game are quick to be counseled about their behavior by league officials.

The fate of the Mt. Pleasant Area Junior Football League — and whether it will implement such safeguards — is not known. Jim Moore, whose 11-year-old played for the Cardinals, said his son is struggling with the decision to cancel the season.

“It’s an embarrassment to the community,” Moore said.

Sports leagues should notify spectators of expected behavior in an effort to lessen the likelihood that unruly acts occur at a competition, said Virginia Brabender, professor of clinical psychology at Widener University near Philadelphia. A person may tend to act immature in a group setting, which can be exacerbated during a competition and could lead a spectator to overblow the significance of a game, she said.

“It is this aspect that is a stimulus for hostile feelings and impulses to emerge,” she said. “Competitions evoke the longing to triumph over the other.”

Staff writer Paul Peirce contributed to this report. Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or [email protected].

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