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Local lacrosse community reeling over 'crazy' attack of referee (UPDATE): Official provides details

Team trainer allegedly assaulted referee after verbal dispute at Orillia tournament game; 'I hope all necessary disciplinary action is taken against the coach'
new lax ref assault
A minor lacrosse referee was attacked by a coach during a game at Rotary Place Friday night. A photo of the official was posted on the Ontario Lacrosse Association Officials Facebook page.

UPDATE (2:20 p.m.)

Shane Hubbard, special advisor for the Ontario Lacrosse Officials Association (OLOA), provided details about this incident in an interview with OrilliaMatters.

Dwayne Palomaki, the person charged with assault, was acting as the trainer for the Innisfil midget team during the game in question Friday night.

Palomaki was given a game misconduct for verbally berating the on-floor officials and was removed from the game, said Hubbard.

Gord Brown, the referee in chief, went to ensure the Palomaki had "left the building or nothing untoward was happening with the players and that's when the alleged assault happened. It's not clear how people became alerted to the incident. Brown was found in the hallway, bloodied and with facial trauma," said Hubbard.

Hubbard said the associaiton has had "problems" with Palomaki in the past.

"When we say problems, it's never been of this nature. But he's definitely been warned for other transgressions," said Hubbard. 

"The OLOA has been calling for more comprehensive and more proactive approaches to dealing with ref abuse," he said. "Generally speaking, the response by the Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) in issues, such as these, has been very reactionary. They do a relatively decent job of dealing with situations in the moment, but we need a degree of proactivity that keeps our members safe."

The problem is not going away, he said.

"The way we see things, referee abuse has been getting worse, not just in lacrosse, but across all sports, especially minor sports," said Hubbard. "The incident is really disheartening."

"As of right now, we have not had a response from the OLA, which has been difficult. What I can say is that over the course of the past season, we have asked the OLA four times, since April, for a workplace violence policy in response to increasing incidents of threats against officials and other unsafe work conditions as we see them," said Hubbard. "As of now, we have received no response." 

Hubbard said "last year a referee got beaten up" by a player pretty badly in a Senior B game. (Also) last year, during the Jr. A national championship, a coach and player were suspended for making threats against an official and the player's suspension was overturned.

He said this is counter to the spirit of the game.

"It goes against the general culture of lacrosse. It's a tight-knit community and it's made up of a lot of very good people," said Hubbard.

"We've been having a systemic problem with ref abuse for a number of years. It's getting worse in our estimation and we haven't seen the sort of reaction we're looking for to keep us safe." 

ORIGINAL STORY (1:30 p.m.)

Disappointed lacrosse parents are calling for an out-of-town coach to be banished from the bench and the sport after he was charged with assault causing bodily harm to a referee at a lacrosse game in Orillia.

“It’s crazy,” Josh Gliddon said of the incident that took place Friday night at Rotary Place during a game between two out-of-town midget teams competing in the Boyd Balkwill Memorial Tournament. “It was totally unnecessary.”

Gliddon said he wasn’t around when the incident happened, but stressed there are no excuses for such behaviour.

He said the coach should be expelled from the sport because that’s not the kind of example the parents want set for their kids.

According to the Orillia OPP, they were called to the arena around 10 p.m. for a report of an assault.

Officers found a male referee bleeding as a result of an alleged physical fight. The OPP said the incident occurred after a verbal dispute, but no details about the dispute were disclosed.

Orillia OPP Const. Martin Hill said the altercation had ended by the time officers arrived on the scene; he said the coach, Dwayne Palomaki, turned himself in to police.

Hill said he couldn’t confirm rumours about the possible involvement of alcohol, as anything about what led to the incident would be part of the evidentiary investigation.

Various tournament officials were approached Sunday by an OrilliaMatters reporter, but all deflected comment to Ron MacSpadyen, marketing director of the Ontario Lacrosse Association, who did not return calls before deadline.

The Ontario Lacrosse Officials Association (OLOA) was also asked for comment, but none was provided in time for publication.

A Facebook post by the OLOA says, “To clarify, the referee was cornered in a hallway when he was beaten. This did not occur in front of an audience.”

An additional comment says, “The man who was assaulted wasn’t even reffing the game in question. He was attempting to (defuse) an irate coach and the coach felt the need to assault him.”

No more information is provided about what led to the incident.

“We’re all emotional when our kids are involved, especially if they get hurt on the floor,” said Gliddon, a Gravenhurst resident whose son plays on the Orillia peewee team.   

“But at the end of the day, it’s about having fun," Gliddon said. "Everything should be taken in stride and used as a learning tool.”

Jessica Zulak, who is a lacrosse mom, also expressed her disappointment over the incident.

“I hope all necessary disciplinary action is taken against the coach,” she said. “This isn’t what this tournament is about and we do not want to be associated with this.”

She said lacrosse needs some positive media around it and that this is not what parents want their kids or fans to focus on.

“We’re a family here,” said Zulak. “We respect the sport, the family, the players and fans. I hope this never happens again.”

An Orillia coach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the kids are here to learn and it’s all about them.

“I stress respect for the refs and the other players,” he said. “If the refs make a call, you have to take that.”

The Orillia resident said he has been coaching for 16 years and it took him a couple years to learn how to get past his emotions while on the bench.

“You want your kids to win, and the parents do, too,” he said. “But the biggest thing is to keep calm so the kids keep calm. They shouldn’t even yell at each other, unless it’s to pass on positive comments.”

He said he talks to his team about working together as a team and not talking back to the referee or arguing with the opposition team’s players.

“What we do in the dressing room reflects on us in the community,” he added. “If they display bad behaviour in the community, then they will be benched. Then the game will suffer and the whole team will suffer.”

As for what happened Friday night, he said, he didn’t witness it, but he strongly believes that kind of behaviour doesn’t belong in the sport.

Zulak and Gliddon said they hoped this was a one-time mishap and will never be repeated.

“Hopefully, people will know it was just one person acting out, and the city and the tournament didn’t have anything to do with it,” said Gliddon.

Zulak added the kids should learn positive lessons from being a part of the team.

“We’re all about the sport and we support each others teams and players and that’s what this tournament is all about,” she said.

Dwayne Palomaki, 47, has been charged with assault causing bodily harm. He is scheduled to appear in court on July 23.


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Mehreen Shahid

About the Author: Mehreen Shahid

Mehreen Shahid covers municipal issues in Cambridge
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