The boys soccer team was handed red cards in back-to-back games last week and, under a new WIAA rule, is one strike away from being eliminated from the postseason.
Gig Harbor was issued two "violent conduct" red cards last week, an offense that immediately puts the team on probation. Another "violent conduct" or "abusive language" red card during the regular season would force the Tides to miss the playoffs.
A "violent conduct" red card is defined by the WIAA as "(t)he commission of a violent act against an opponent, an official, a spectator, teammate or other individuals when the ball is in or out of play." According to Gig Harbor head coach Todd Northstrom, the first "violent conduct" red card issued against his team facing Shelton on March 22, was completely justified. Northstrom upheld the automatic suspension against junior Conor Larson, even adding a game to the suspension.
"It was totally justified," Northstrom said. "I told the ref it was the right call."
But the second red card on Thursday, March 24, has Northstrom fuming. With less than a minute remaining in an eventual 2-1 loss to rival Bellarmine Prep, Gig Harbor sent all its players forward, including goalie Korey Durkee, in an attempt to score. The kick failed, and in Northstrom's view, Durkee began running back to his position. But play was halted and Durkee was handed a "violent conduct" red card for allegedly stomping on a Bellarmine Prep player's chest and then staring the player down as he jogged back to his position, a claim Northstrom refutes.
Northstrom says he attempted to get an explanation for the foul from the head referee but got no answer. After the game, he says he tried again to get an explanation and to file a formal protest, but he says the referee shook hands with the Bellarmine coaches and exited the field.
"As a coach you're supposed to formally protest either at halftime or at the end of the game," Northstrom said. "This is why I was upset Thursday, the ref wouldn't acknowledge me. I kept calling him and calling him so I could protest, and he ran to the Bellarmine sideline, shook hands with the Bellarmine coaches and ran away."
Northstrom said he supports the WIAA's emphasis on cutting down on swearing and excessive fouls, but said he thinks the red card on Durkee does not fall under either of these categories.
"I understand the spirit of the law and what they're trying to do and it's good," said Northstrom. "We need to cut down on the swearing and the retaliation fouls ... but in all of what's going on, there's always these cases where bad things happen to good people ... and you've got to look at each individual case."
Northstrom has appealed to the WIAA for a reduction in the penalty but is less than optimistic that the decision will be overturned. The WIAA has not commented on the specific case as of Tuesday afternoon.
"Traditionally, the WIAA, they never overturn anything," Northstrom said. "But in this case ... there needs to be an investigation. We can't just take the word of one individual when the consequences are so severe. There needs to be interviews of both coaches, of the [other referees], separately and individually and also the center ref and the kids involved. There's too much at stake here.
"I've got nine seniors on my team that have lived for this moment. They play club soccer and they play club soccer to be great for high school," he continued. "That's the tragedy behind this whole thing and what I'm most worried about and what's kept me awake at night is that these guys aren't going to be able to play like they can play and miss out on something special."