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Police probe hoops melee
May 05, 2004 12:00 am
Authorities are investigating a "melee" which erupted during an amateur basketball game at Cumberland University, with officials, coaches and underage players involved in "three different fights" before order was restored.
An adult coach contacted at his Murfreesboro home yesterday about the incident refused to discuss it or identify what – if any – league had sanctioned the game.
An official whose foul call against a player touched off the fracas said he was "shocked" by the fight.
"I've never seen anything like it before," said Eric Bouldin of Murfreesboro, one of two TSSAA-trained officials working the game.
Cumberland University Athletic Director Pat Lawson said no representatives of the school were involved in the incident, with CU merely allowing the teams to use its gym for the Saturday game.
He described the game as part of a "preliminary tournament" designed to determine which teams participate in Amateur Athletic Union league games this summer.
"I'm not sure it was officially sanctioned as an AAU event, I think it was basically a preliminary tournament leading into the state AAU qualifications," Lawson said.
Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen said that while no charges have yet been filed, investigators are reviewing the incident.
He said officers described the scene as "just chaos" when they arrived.
"There were so many people into it – coaches, parents, officials, players. It was basically a melee," Bowen said.
According to police reports, the incident started when Bouldin whistled a foul against a player who "mouthed off" and was ejected by a second official, identified as Daniel Woodard.
The player then "bumped chests" with the official and verbally threatened him as he was leaving the court, according to Bouldin's police statement.
Seconds later the player's coach, identified as Mark Wassel of Murfreesboro, started berating Bouldin, following him to the scorer's table where he "shoved me into the bleachers and I defended myself," the official's statement said.
Bouldin then told police an unidentified individual "grabbed me by the neck. I went down and got up" to find Woodard then fighting with Wassel and his son, a teenage player for one of the teams.
Bouldin said Woodard "and the kid started wrestling. That broke up. In the next five minutes, the head coach tried to fight two more times, swinging at" Woodard, the official said in the police report.
Bouldin said Wassel "tried to fight two more times" within "the next five minutes," while the player originally ejected "started screaming obscenities from the lobby to the gym where I was standing."
The official told police the player – identified in reports as standing over 6 feet tall and weighing 225 – then "sprinted and tackled me in the gym. We fought and I defended myself. Someone pulled the player off me. He then confronted me again in the lobby with his friend but his mother, I assume, calmed him."
When contacted at home about the incident, Bouldin said he was uninjured and did not plan to press charges.
In Woodard's statement to police, the official said that while he was scuffling with one player, others "started kicking me on the floor while this was happening…When I got back up the coach…then pushed me in the chest."
He said the opposing coach walked him to the other end of the gym, where Wassel "charged again" with the two "ending up on the floor."
"The coach…was running around trying to instigate more fights and attacks," Woodard said in his statement.
Wassel, when contacted by telephone, would not discuss the incident. He also refused to identify either team by name or reveal any league affiliation.
"I have no comment," Wassel said, hanging up the telephone when told that one team was identified in police reports as the Fury.
However, reports filed by officers on the scene said Wassel indicated Bouldin was to blame for the altercation by "getting in his face" when he told the ref he "disagreed with his call."
Wassel's wife also gave police a statement in which she primarily blamed the officials, who she said were accused by Wassel of being "confrontational" with players. She said their son, who played in the game, sustained a bloodied nose in the melee as Bouldin "kept mouthing" and that he continued "taunting" another player even after the fight ended.
The mother of yet another player interviewed by police, Patricia Cowan, said she was in the lobby talking to her son who had just been ejected from the game when she heard "parents shouting they wanted their money back."
"I went back in to see what was going on and our coach was talking to the ref. The crowd was heated and the ref and coach started to fight. They stopped for a short time and they argued again. I stepped in between them, back to coach and facing ref. He pushed me out of the way, grazing my right cheek and it became a free for all," Cowan's statement said.
She said that when her son told the ref "not to ever put his hands on my mom again" the ref "invited my son back into the gym to fight. He went back in and locked up with me and others trying to pull them apart."
Bowen said investigators are "taking it seriously" as they probe the incident, but declined to speculate on whether charges may be filed.
"Right now it's a lot of 'he said, she said' and our investigators are just trying to get to the bottom of what happened," Bowen said. "When they're satisfied they're at that point, then we'll sit down with the district attorney's office and decide whether to proceed with any charges."