Thursday, November 3, 2011

How the "Bernie" dance ended the Perry Hall soccer team's season

NOVEMBER 3, 2011

Perry Hall boys soccer forfeits Class 4A North semifinal after allegations of taunting

By Todd Karpovich
Special to The Baltimore Sun
Officials at Perry Hall have decided to forfeit their boys soccer team’s upcoming Class 4A North Region semifinal game following allegations of taunting after the Gators’ 2-1 win at Dulaney in Tuesday’s quarterfinal.
Several family members of Dulaney players sent emails to Perry Hall principal George Roberts complaining about the Gators’ celebration following their victory. One alleged the Perry Hall players made “lewd and suggestive movements that showed absolutely no respect or sportsmanship.”
Players told coach Pete Eibner that they were imitating a dance called the “Bernie” performed by Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs and running back Ray Rice after big plays, but that they were not taunting anyone from Dulaney.
Roberts said he spent more than eight hours Wednesday interviewing players and coaches and sorting through emails from people who were at the game to determine what happened during the celebration. After compiling all of the information, Roberts decided the best course of action was to terminate the rest of the season.
“No educator likes to see kids that upset,” said Roberts, who noted that there was no video available of the incident. “Depending on whom you ask, the [players’] dance was either offensive or non-offensive. Based on the information I received, my concern was that they engaged in a celebratory dance at that time and in the manner that they did. Ray Rice might do that dance, but performs in front of 60,000 people. He is a pro athlete and is paid to play. These are high school athletes.”
The Gators were scheduled to play James Hubert Blake in the regional semifinals Friday. A forfeit would result in James Hubert Blake automatically advancing to the regional final.
Parents and players from Perry Hall are trying to convince Roberts to reverse his decision before that.
Dave Liberto, who has a son on the soccer team and works as a liaison between the Perry Hall boosters and the team, said there was no taunting and the players were simply celebrating the victory. He said the players did a similar dance after their first-round playoff victory over Sherwood.
He said the Dulaney parents might have taken offense because the celebration was done on the Lions' side of the field.
“It was merely a simple, celebratory ‘Bernie’ dance,” Liberto said Thursday. “For them to cancel the season on us is brutal. [Roberts] can reverse his decision today and they guys can start training tomorrow. It's a big deal. We're a solid squad, and these guys have done a lot of good things.”
Liberto said some students held an impromptu protest outside the school Thursday morning.
Dave Carder, a Dulaney fan who emailed Roberts to complain about Perry Hall's celebration, said that at the end of the match, the Perry Hall players gathered in the center of the field and jogged over toward the Lions' fans. He said he initially thought they were going to applaud the fans, which is a tradition among soccer teams, but they instead broke into the controversial celebration.
"Several of them did a very noticeable pelvic thrust at the crowd and were pointing at their privates at the same time. It was 10 seconds," said Carder, who has a son on Dulaney's junior varsity team. "It was absolutely shocking. I was one of about a dozen Dulaney supporters who wrote an email to the principal. I spoke to him that night and I spoke to him the next morning. I wanted to register my disgust and my displeasure with him directly, because I'm involved in soccer. It was fine game. There was no particular animosity during the game.
"I find myself having mixed emotions about it, but I think it's the right decision. You can assume there were some ring leaders and some kids who just went along because of peer pressure. I feel bad for the kids who had nothing to do with what it was."
Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association, supported Roberts’ decision and he said it was Roberts’ prerogative to take any action he thought was necessary under the circumstances.
“We have to remember this is education-based,” Sparks said. “This isn't the rec league or AAU. He took action he deemed needed to be taken. From a point of view of teaching good behavior, to the point of view of sportsmanship, to the point of view of setting the tone for what level of behavior is expected, he should be applauded. They are high school kids and they're held to a different standard.”
Eibner said he did not see the incident following Tuesday’s game because he was talking to his own players and consoling two Dulaney players.
“We have said all season long that we win with class, lose with dignity,” Eibner said. “I cannot say that the boys handled themselves with class, because they obviously did something that was interpreted by their parents as taunting. They are now having their dignity stripped from them, and our goal is to hold our heads high through it.”
Dulaney coach Jerry Tana also said he did not see the dance by the Perry Hall players. However, he said Eibner has always been a role model for sportsmanship.
“I know that Pete feels terrible, and I feel terrible,” Tana said. “They played a good game and won fair and square. However, in this day of society, with the emphasis being good sports, that kind of conduct cannot be tolerated. I’ve seen brawls break out among high school players for less than that. I do feel bad for Pete. He’s a good guy and a good coach. They have a good program. We have a lot of respect for their program and their school. We hope there’s a bigger lesson here than winning games that can be passed down to all Baltimore County high schools. I feel terrible their program is not going forward.”
Perry Hall athletic director Robert Hruz and Dulaney athletic director Mike Lafferty could not be reached for comment.