Crime & Courts

Group attacks Wichita youth football coach over player’s eligibility; coach’s wife defends with gun

A man watching the practice at the park at 1901 S. Kansas confronted the coach about his son’s lack of playing time, lifting his shirt to display a handgun tucked into the waist of his pants, according to Wichita police. Moments later, five or six other men began beating up the 37-year-old coach, Lt. James Espinoza said.
A man watching the practice at the park at 1901 S. Kansas confronted the coach about his son’s lack of playing time, lifting his shirt to display a handgun tucked into the waist of his pants, according to Wichita police. Moments later, five or six other men began beating up the 37-year-old coach, Lt. James Espinoza said. The Wichita Eagle

Police are still looking for the men who they said threatened a youth football league coach with a gun and then began beating him after a dispute over playing time. The coach’s wife pulled out a gun and fired it in the air to scare the men away.

The incident occurred at about 7:45 p.m. Monday at Linwood Park in south Wichita, Lt. James Espinoza said.

The Wichita Tigers, who are part of the Greater Wichita Junior Football League, were practicing at Linwood Park when the mother of a former player confronted the coach over her son not being allowed to play in the season opener on last Saturday, said Jeremy Burris, director of the Tigers football program.

Burris would not say how old the player is. The league has teams for each age group between second and eighth grades.

The player was with the Tigers for about one week last season before he was removed from the team for what Burris called “a character issue.”

Family members played loud music and cursed loudly during practices and were a disruptive presence, he said.

The league’s code of conduct stipulates teams can be removed from the league for repeated occurrences of behavior such as misconduct at games. The code of conduct also sets out expected behavior for parents, coaches, players and spectators.

The player in question has recently played for three different teams in the league.

He played with the Tigers for one week last season, joined Saints for the rest of the 2013 season and then joined the Cowboys for the 2014 season, Burris said. But the boy was not allowed to play last Saturday because he had not turned in his football equipment to the Saints after last season ended.

“It’s kind of a mutual understanding between teams,” said Jerome Crawford, director of the Wichita Titans, who practice at Planeview Park. “The only way to maintain our stuff (equipment) is to not allow them to play for another team until we get our stuff back.”

Because the Cowboys were playing the Tigers on Saturday, Burris said, the woman thought “we were the ones that made her kid not play. We had nothing to do with it.”

The woman came to the park Monday night and began yelling at the coach, prompting the “team mom” to step in and urge her to calm down, Burris said.

The woman left and police were called to the park. They interviewed witnesses and left.

About 20 minutes after the police left, Burris said, a group of men walked up to the field in the park at 1901 S. Kansas and asked which coach had talked to their relative. When they found out, they confronted him.

One of the men lifted his shirt to display a handgun tucked into the waist of his pants, Espinoza said. Moments later, five or six other men began beating up the 37-year-old coach. One of the men used a set of brass knuckles, Espinoza said.

Seeing the attack, the coach’s wife pulled out a gun and fired a warning shot into the air, Burris said.

The coach broke free of his attackers and went to his car for a second gun, which he pointed at various people in the crowd, Espinoza said.

The attackers had all fled the park by the time officers arrived, Espinoza said. The guns used by the coach and his wife were confiscated as evidence. No arrests have been made.

“It’s upsetting to even hear a story like this,” said Espinoza, who is a youth league football coach himself. “It just sets a terrible example of coaching and parenting.”

He encouraged anyone who recorded video of the disturbance to contact investigators at 316-268-4646.

The coach who was involved in the clash and pulled out a gun after being attacked has been relieved of his coaching duties, Burris said. His wife was also dismissed from involvement with the team.

“He’s been a great role model” for kids, Burris said of the coach, who has been with the Tigers for a few years and worked in the league for at least 15 years. “He’s really helped.”

Despite that background, Burris said, “you can’t take weapons out around children.”

Both the coach and his wife have concealed-carry permits for their weapons, he said.

League officials declined to comment on the incident, citing the ongoing police investigation.

“Nothing like this has ever happened in this organization,” said Burris, who said he has been affiliated with the Tigers for 20 years. “We pride ourselves on zero tolerance for anything that goes on.”

That’s why they released the boy from the team last year and why they dismissed the coach following the altercation Monday night, he said.

Burris and Crawford both said they planned to meet with parents of players to talk about what happened Monday night.

“We’re supposed to be good role models,” Crawford said.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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