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Youth Soccer Safety Rules Questioned After Incident

Paul Steinbach

An agreement between a Florida school district and a youth soccer organization has been questioned after an eighth-grade student body-slammed a sixth-grader during a soccer match at a local park.

Action News Jax, the parent company of CBS and Fox affiliates in Jacksonville, investigated the incident in which a Switzerland Point Middle School student was pushed, punched and body-slammed by the older student from a different St. Johns County middle school at Aberdeen Park in St. Johns. The schools are part of the St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association. A licensing agreement between the association and the St. Johns County School District licenses out the use of school athletic facilities, names, logos and mascots, but the association is independent of the school district.

National Alliance for Youth Sports executive director John Engh told Action News Jax that the arrangement is "nothing I see very often — that's for sure." NAYS has trained and certified thousands of organizations, but the St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association is not one of them. When asked if eighth-graders should be competing against children two years younger, Engh said, "The simple answer for our organization is no."

Reached for comment, Paul Abbatinozzi, senior director of school services for the St. Johns County School District, emailed a statement:

“SJMSAA (St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association) is one of several youth sports associations in our county aligned with the St. Johns County Parks and Recreation Department. They are a not-for-profit corporation that operates completely independent of the St. Johns County School District. They utilize the school district names and logos by a licensing agreement only. That said, we certainly do not condone conduct or activities that reflect unfavorably on the district or schools. As with other youth sports associations that our students across the district participate with, we do not oversee their organizational decisions, process and procedures related to things such as fees, structure for try-outs, final rosters, securing officials, discipline of athletes, scheduling of fields for practices or contests, etc. I am confident the SJMSAA will follow up with athletic concerns and remain consistent with their policies and practice as they have in the past when dealing with athletes, parents, spectators and such.”

When Action News Jax asked whether the older child was disciplined, St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association president Justin Palesotti emailed this statement:

“First let me preface this email with the understanding that SJMSAA (St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association) is a not for profit corporation that operates completely independent of the School District of St. Johns County. We utilize the school district names and logos by a licensing agreement only. Upon learning of the situation and with only one game remaining in the tournament, the SJMSAA tournament committee removed the player in violation of the student athlete code of conduct in the video. Additionally, SJMSAA at my direction is reviewing the events that led up to this incident so we can be sure to take the corrective actions with our industry partners so as to be sure incidents like this are mitigated in the future. Due to the ongoing review of this incident, we have no further comment at this time.”

The assaulted child's mother said she’s still waiting on an apology from the league, the child's attacker and his parents. “It’s important this child is held accountable for his actions and understand if you attack someone or do things like this, there are consequences to follow,” she said, adding that her son suffered some neck and shoulder pain, and that she is considering pressing charges with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

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