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Girls' Soccer Game Ends Over Sexual Harassment from Stands

Paul Steinbach

The Hartford (Vt.) High School girls' soccer team walked off the field with six minutes left in a game Thursday night because of sexual harassment from the stands.

Head coach Jeff Acker pulled his team from the game at Fair Haven Union High after at least one of the Hurricanes was subjected to taunts from the Fair Haven student section that Acker said went “way beyond even normal unacceptable unsportsmanlike high school behavior,” according to Valley News.

“We understand that occasionally maybe somebody’s going to make a comment from the student section to a player on the opposing team. And that’s really unacceptable, and the administrators are typically right there to nip that stuff in the bud,” said Acker, who's been the Hurricanes' coach for 16 years. “And this was well beyond that. This was about a high school athlete who was targeted for harassment based on her gender. Plain and simple.”

Valley News reported that a Facebook post in the Upper Valley (VT/NH) group by Sara Morris Blood — whose daughter, Katie, is a senior defender and team captain for Hartford — said the comments from the Fair Haven student section constituted sexual harassment.

“Yes, outright sexual harassment — barking, ‘hey, tuck in your shirt so we can see your ass!’, etc.” Blood wrote.

Acker said he couldn’t hear the actual comments, since the student section was located on the opposite side of the field, but he said he could tell by the second half that something was off based on his players’ body language, as well as the timing of the crowd noise.

“We would get a throw-in, just at midfield. And all of a sudden their student section would be making all sorts of noise. Nobody’s cheering when the other team gets a throw in midfield, like this is not normal,” said Acker, who estimated the student section headcount at between 30 and 50. “Well, what was happening was, in those instances, for example, my player would go over, she’d have to take the throw, and now she’s right in front of the student section. And then that’s when the comments would come out.”

He said he decided to take the Hurricanes off the field when the player who had taken the brunt of the abuse came off the field, unprompted, during a break in second-half action after a goal put Fair Haven up, 6-0.

Acker made a substitution, but reconsidered. “It occurred to me that what I had done was I had just put another girl out there to be the target. And that’s when I said I can’t (do that). I have to protect everybody. I have to protect that girl. I have to protect us. We’re not standing here anymore,” Acker said.

The team packed up its gear and headed for the bus.

Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno and Fair Haven athletic director Kim Alexander were working together Friday to investigate the incident, according to Alexander. “We’re taking it very seriously,” she said. “We’re looking into all the allegations. And we’re going to work collaboratively with Hartford and work through any and all of the issues that may or may not exist.”

Hartford assistant coach Joe Cerniglia said that during Friday's practice the team talked about what happened and that the players expressed their thoughts and feelings. “Everyone’s fine, as best as you can be given the circumstances,” Cerniglia said. “It’s certainly going to take different players and student-athletes time to process their emotions. But overall, my take is that everybody is in a good place."

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