A Massachusetts high school basketball player is facing a criminal charge after allegedly attacking a referee mid-game.
The Excel High School player is facing a count of assault and battery after “sucker punching” a referee in a Wednesday game against Cohasset Middle-High School, according to Fox News, citing the Cohasset Police Department.
The basketball game was halted and the gym cleared after the attack on the referee, according to Boston.com.
The player in question reportedly believed he was being called for a foul by the referee. In actuality, the referee was calling a travel foul on the other team.
One witness to the incident — photographer Dan Leahy — recounted the cowardly attack on the ref, according to WFXT-TV.
“Out of my peripheral, I see a South Boston player coming over to the baseline, I assumed to take the ball out,” Leahy told the station.
“In fact, he launched at an official and gave him a full nelson right to the side of the head, which brought the ref down, and he kept exercising a physical attack on this poor ref, who was bent over and couldn’t defend himself.”
Leahy called the attack “vicious.”
“There’s so much anger built in to assault an authoritative figure in that manner,” he told WFTX. “And it was vicious, not like he went up and bumped him or anything like that. He went at him with a full fist, it’s a shame.”
Excel High School was losing the contest 32-8 at the time.
School officials have indicated that the student involved could face disciplinary action.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association released a statement after the beating.
MIAA statement regarding reported incident during Wednesday night boys basketball game: pic.twitter.com/Mn3uZ50X3D
— MIAA (@MIAA033) December 29, 2022
The student accused of the referee attack hasn’t been publicly identified because of his age.
The boy is slated for an appearance at the Quincy Juvenile Court for a pre-trial hearing at a future date, according to Boston.com.
Unsportsmanlike conduct on the part of players and even parents has created challenges for some youth sports leagues.
According to a New York Times report in April, unruly behavior by athletes, parents and even coaches has driven a national shortage of officiating in youth sports.
“The shortfall has persisted for years, as rowdy parents, coaches and players have created a toxic environment that has driven referees away and hampered the recruitment of new ones, referees say,” the Times reported.
“The pandemic only made things worse: The cancellation of games and entire seasons over the last two years hastened an exodus of older officials who decided that they didn’t want the low pay, angry shouting — or potential infection.”
Nationwide, between 2018 and 2021, about 50,000 high school sports officials quit nationally, according to Dana Pappas, director of officiating services for the National Federation of State High School Sports, the Times reported.
“This is a nightmare across all sports,” Pappas said.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.