Soccer is considered a non-contact sport, but for the players who have been seriously injured this season, that might be a tough sell.
While jumping for a head ball, a St. Joe's midfielder collided with a Nichols player and suffered four skull fractures and a broken nose. He spent four days at Buffalo General Hospital and returned to school on Monday.
In the same game, the Marauders' keeper received a gash over his eye that required 16 stitches.
Canisius defenseman Andrew Fox bruised the vertebrate in the back of his neck after being elbowed in the throat. The blow shifted his Adam's apple to the right. Unable to breathe, talk or swallow, he was rushed to Sisters Hospital.
"I was lining up for a corner kick, and was marking a (Nichols) kid inside the box. Before the ball was kicked the kid threw his elbow up like he was reaching for (my throat)," said Fox, who hopes to return Oct. 3. "Stuff happens when you're playing."
The North Tonawanda girls keeper received a concussion against Niagara Falls on a play in which NT coach Steve Sabo said: "A player came through and kicked her in the face and head. The ref said the Niagara Falls player had a right to the ball. When you hear those kind of comments, you scratch your head."
Are these isolated incidents, or an alarming trend?
"It's getting really violent," St. Joe's coach Mike Thoin said. "The kids will push (as much as) what's allowed to the max. It's been called a non-contact sport, but that's not even close."
Thoin said that today's athletes are stronger, faster and more skilled. Many show no fear running full speed after a ball. He said it's too much for two-man officiating crews to control, and said the three-man system used in college would benefit everyone.
Section VI recognized the need to clean up sportsmanship and reckless play and formed a committee after last season. A new policy was adopted that reduced the number of yellow cards a player could get before being suspended from five to three. The Catholic league embraced the policy as well.
"Soccer was having many issues with sportsmanship," said Section VI girls soccer chairman Chris Durr of Williamsville East. "The idea of the policy was to clean up all parts of the game, and not a situation where we're punishing kids. Hopefully, kids are thinking about it."
Durr also said that the bulk of the responsibility to control players falls on coaches much more than officials.
"Coaches can always take a player out of the game without a yellow card ever coming out," he said.
While considered a positive move, the policy also has some coaches convinced that officials are letting more go because they know the athletes have fewer yellow cards to get. And that could be leading to rougher play.
"I don't think that's true," said Mark Butler, the President of the WNY Soccer Officials Association. "A lot of times the yellows are pretty obvious. The only time you have a little discretion is if it's a kid, and he said something. You may want to give him a break.
"The yellows can mount up for things that don't involve a sportsmanship violation or rough play. It's not necessarily because people are out of control or are getting injured. The coaching is getting better, kids are playing year 'round, getting more sophisticated, and I'd like to think officials are keeping pace."
> Stoddard is driven
Looking for an athlete who can drive his team down the field as well as drive the fairway?
Southwestern junior Chris Stoddard is your man. Stoddard, named the Jim Kelly Underclassman of the Week this week, moonlights as one of the top golfers in the section during the spring season.
In football he's the Trojans' quarterback, kicker and defensive back. In golf he's a zero handicap who won the men's club championship at Moonbrook Country Club in Jamestown earlier this month.
"It's weird because in golf and football there's a lot of pressure. You have to have the mind-set to do everything right and stick with it even when times are tough," he said.
> Readying for St. Joe's
The Harvard Cup/Monsignor Martin Association football series continues on Saturday when Burgard visits St. Joe's. "We haven't lost to a Catholic league team in my two years," Burgard coach Jason Kolb said. "But I don't want to jinx myself." The Bulldogs beat Cardinal O'Hara in 2003 and St. Mary's in 2004.