For the average hockey fan, fights can be an acceptable, even anticipated, part of an aggressive, physical game.
For some parents of the thousands of children at the Portland Pirates’ annual School Day game Tuesday, a fight that ended with the ejection of four players was too much.
“We were horrified by what we witnessed,” said Catherine Anderson, who attended the game with her 6-year-old son’s kindergarten class from Reiche School in Portland. “(My son) said, ‘Mommy, what’s happening?’ and I said, ‘These men are acting out of control and they’re making bad choices.’ And he said, ‘Why isn’t it stopped?’ “
Observers at the game said the reaction at the Cumberland County Civic Center to the fights was mixed, with some students — particularly older ones — apparently not fazed by the action. But some children and parents were upset, so much so that Anderson said Reiche’s interim principal, Paul Yarnevich, promised her in an email that teachers would talk to their students Wednesday about the “inappropriateness” of the fighting and make the school counselor available to any who were upset.
Yarnevich declined to comment, but Portland Superintendent Jim Morse said he plans to talk to principals and teachers who went to Tuesday’s game before deciding whether the district will send students to the School Day game next year.
“Maybe ice hockey for primary-age kids is not the best place to be taking kids on a field trip,” he said. “It’s not something I think a 5-year-old should be subjected to. There are other opportunities in Portland where youngsters can experience sportsmanship.”
Team owner Brian Petrovek said people shouldn’t focus on one incident — the fight — to color their opinion of the School Day program or hockey. More than 3,600 students from more than 20 schools attended the Pirates-Worchester Sharks game. It was the team’s second annual School Day.
“This is a physical, aggressive game,” he said. “We’re seeing less fighting in our sport. In this case, yes, it went beyond a normal fight.”
Petrovek denied reports from several school administrators that they were told by a Pirates official who coordinated the event that players would be reminded that students were in the audience and cautioned about aggressive behavior.
Peter Mortenson, principal of Lake Region Middle School, which sent 225 students to the game as a reward “for their civil behavior in the building,” said he was told the players were told that “the normal aggressive behavior is not acceptable.”
Petrovek said the staff member in charge of the School Day project told him she made no such assurances, and only pointed out to school officials who asked that there were no fights at last year’s School Day game.
“Fighting is a part of the sport and it’s penalized,” Petrovek said. “That’s a lesson whether you’re 5 years old or 50 years old.”
Susan Allen, a hockey fan and teacher at Eight Corners Elementary in Scarborough who accompanied about 40 first- and second-graders to the game, said she made the fight “a teachable moment.”
“I told them, ‘Hockey players are much like first-graders sometimes — they have disagreements and they have consequences for what they do,’ ” Allen said. “When the referee thought they could make better choices, they were allowed back into the game.”
Actually, four players were ejected from the game, but not the one the Eight Corners’ students were most interested in. That player, Nick Crawford, read to the kids at the school a few weeks ago as part of a reading program.
On Tuesday, Crawford traded punches with another player in the first fight of the game, and Allen said her students were upset that he had to sit in the penalty box for five minutes.
“To them, Nick Crawford can do no harm,” she said, adding that he waved to the students before the game.
Risa Johnson, who is raising her grandson and sends him to Portland’s East End Community School, said she was “outraged” by the fighting.
Johnson said she used to work at the civic center during hockey games and originally decided that her grandson, a fifth-grader, would not go on the field trip.
But his teacher called to encourage her to send him to the game and said the school had been “guaranteed” a non-violent game by the Pirates, so she relented.
Johnson said she saw other students at her grandson’s bus stop mimicking the hockey fight Wednesday morning, and then when she read about the brawl, she wished she had stuck with her original decision.
“I’m ashamed of these guys and what they did in front of these children,” she said.
Other school officials said they didn’t have any complaints or issues with the game, including the principals at Cathedral School in Portland and Sanford Junior High School.
Petrovek said the games are part of an effort “to be good corporate citizens,” and noted it promoted the “5-2-1-0″ program to get children to eat their fruits and vegetables, limit computer and television time, exercise and avoid sugared drinks.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: