Lessons to be learned from soccer ref's death

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - The tragic death of soccer referee Ricardo Portillo will hopefully bring change to the way officials are treated by fans and players.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - With the tragic death of soccer referee Ricardo Portillo, who died after being punched by a player during a recreational league game, many people are wondering how this could have ever happened.

Korey Parker, who has refereed high school soccer games for 14 years, has experienced physical altercations himself.

"I've been assaulted a couple of times," Parker said. "It's a two-handed shove, but it's over pretty quick. The first time, I actually took a year off from high school ball."

So while Parker was deeply saddened by Portillo's death, he also wasn't surprised.

"I hate to say it, it's obviously tragic, but I wonder why it doesn't happen more often," Parker said.

Bart Thompson, who is in charge of soccer at the Utah High School Activities Association, hopes people can learn from Portillo's death.

"It's one of those things I worry about every day," Thompson said. "Obviously, we'd never want to have this kind of a wake-up call, but certainly I think it can serve as that. Nothing good comes out of a death, but I certainly hope we can learn the lessons from this horrible tragedy that has taken place."

"Yes, I think a lot of good can come from this," added Parker. "It's the recognition that the possibility is there. The coaches need to take responsibility, the parents need to take responsibility, ultimately it was the players in that situtation, but it's everyone's responsibility."

Fans at the Alta-Cottonwood soccer game said they have already noticed a change in behavior when it comes to treatment of the referees.

"I even [thought about saying something], but decided not to say it," said soccer mom Kim Tripp. "We need to respect them because they're just doing their job. I think we're all a little more sensitive now. It's a hard job and not everybody is perfect."

High school referees are more protected than recreational league refs since high school officials have game administrators with them to escort them off the field or to the locker room. The UHSAA also holds sportsmanship meetings with coaches and players before each season.

"I don't know what the answer is other than education," said Thompson. "It's a game, for heaven's sake. It's something we play. It's not life and death."

Unfortunately in this case, it was.
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