Monday, June 20, 2005

From Penalty Box to Witness Box

A year without the NHL has left sports editors scrambling for anything to fill the hockey section other than the Bettman-Goodenow stalemate.

In the absence of coverage of the Leafs' 2005 Cup win, this blog brings you another tale of a fanatical hockey dad, an overpressured son, and the resulting lawsuit:

Toronto — A 10-year-old boy who says he was booted from his minor hockey team because officials hated his dad is suing the league.

“It's a no-brainer: the sins of the fathers should not visit the children,” said Harry Kopyto, the family's legal agent.

The lawsuit, to be heard Monday and Tuesday in small claims court and expected to include testimony from expert witnesses in abuse and bullying, is the latest legal battle stemming from rink rage.

In a statement of claim, Brendan Butrimas said officials of the Applewood Hockey Association in Mississauga, Ont., took a dispute with his father out on him.

The boy launched the $10,000 suit in an effort to prevent similar incidents in the future, Mr. Kopyto said.

“It's not a money grab. This is a case to protect the rights of children,” he said.

The claim, disputed by the association, said Brendan's father, Dalius Butrimas got into a feud with Novice White team officials because he wanted to see his son in the dressing room after games.

Brendan, who was then seven, said he needed help getting out of his equipment but Mr. Butrimas said the coach refused him entry.

As a result of the feud, the boy was suspended in October 2002, then demoted to a less skilled team — an announcement the boy said was made by the association's president in front of his teammates after a game.

“It made me feel sad,” said Brendan in an interview. “I was also quite mad, too.”

In its defence, the association denies barring any parents access to the dressing room.

Instead, it claims Mr. Butrimas was “aggressive and confrontational” and became increasingly agitated and abusive.

“(Mr. Butrimas) was observed using inappropriate language and carrying on in a manner that was inappropriate, unwelcome and unbecoming of a parent,” the association said in its defence, filed in court in Brampton, Ont.

The association removed Brendan from the team “in the best interest of the other 14 players” and to protect the coaches from his father, it said.

Needless to say, this dispute should never have seen the inside of a courtroom. Too many minor hockey people take themselves far too seriously, even if the system does produce future NHL talent.

Fathers pushing their sons to live out their frustrated dreams of glory, combined with coaches striving to rise to higher-level leagues and empire-building league officials add up to hundreds of boys abandoning the sport in frustration every year.

Does Brendan really care about the money? Probably not. Does he care about which team he plays on? Of course. Is he embarrassed about Dad helping him dress when he's old enough to do it himself? Almost certainly.

Do any of the grown-ups here have sense enough to ask Brendan what he wants? Not a one.

Source: The Globe and Mail

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