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Bremerton Knights soccer seeing red
The Bremerton High School boys soccer team is one wrong move away from losing their entire season.
It's not a matter of a missed defensive assignment or an errant kick. The Knights' season hangs in the balance because of their behavior.
Bremerton, which sits atop the Olympic League standings for the second straight year, is one "straight" red card away from being eliminated from the postseason under new guidelines set by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
"It's absurd and absolutely ridiculous," said Bremerton head coach Randy Lund about the governing body's new rule for the spring 2011 season Monday. "You don't see this in any other high school sport, so I don't get why it's in soccer."
A straight red card is given for violent conduct or abusive language on the field. Red cards given for two yellow card in the same game, a "soft" red card, don't count.
The team currently has two red cards that count for the year. A third red card will ban a team from appearing in the playoffs, regardless of records or seeding. In addition, any player who earns a red card is served a three-game suspension.
Junior forward Nick Riders, the team's leading scorer, received a red card during an altercation against Port Townsend High School April 19 when an opposing player grabbed his face to stop him from moving the ball. Riders turned around and punched the athlete three times, Lund said.
Riders was ejected for the remainder of the game and missed the Knights' matches against North Kitsap, Olympic and Kingston high schools. Lund said that Riders deserved a red card, but was irate when the Port Townsend player was given a yellow card.
"I blew a gasket," the coach added. "Once we lost Nick for three games, it made a huge difference."
The Knights beat Olympic and North Kitsap, but dropped their first league game of the season with a 2-0 defeat to Kingston April 28. As a result, the team will have to win a play-in game to advance to the district playoffs. They were on pace for a No. 1 seeding prior to Riders' suspension.
"How is my team going to beat the league's top defense in Kingston when I'm missing players?" said Lund, who was also missing senior forward James Hill to a school performance at a choir concert. "It doesn't provide a lot of optimism to go against the best without your top guys."
Riders said Monday he regretted his reaction.
"It was kind of regrettable," he added. "I missed some games that were really important for my team and now I just have to put it behind me."
Jordan Perrone, who plays mostly junior varsity, earned the team's other red card in a tussle against Olympic April 26. Like Riders, he also retaliated by punching an opposing player after being kicked in the groin three times, Lund said.
Now, the Knights are on probation, which means an impartial games committee of three officials from the state's governing body for high school athletics will attend the team's postseason games in case of a third red card.
If a third red card is earned, Bremerton can appeal the decision on the field. However, if the officials turn down the appeal, the season is over.
Lund is afraid of the new rule, but not worried about his players acting inappropriately. He warned his athletes last week that when an opposing player strikes with a punch, kick or other flagrant foul, then the next step is to walk away and not retaliate.
However, Lund added that the line is drawn at a certain point.
"Walk away first, but if they keep coming back at you, then we're going to practice self-defense," he said.
The coach is also concerned that other teams will take advantage of Bremerton's predicament. Lund said it's possible that another team could devise a plan to send out a player aimed at intentionally starting a fight with one of the Knights, which would lead to forfeiting the match.
"I'm not saying other coaches do that, but it's possible," Lund added. "It's a stupid rule."
Nonetheless, Lund said his team will be ready for the playoffs, which start this weekend. He's never had a player commit a straight red card, let alone two athletes in the same year.
Lund is happy that Riders' suspension is over, but worried about the program's image.
"It sort of puts a bad name on the program," he said. "But these things happen, so what can you do?"
Hill, who is playing in his final season at Bremerton, still believes the team can make a run at state and put their past behind them.
"We're focused on getting to state right now," Hill said. "We just need to move on now."