Two Amherst youth football coaches will be cleaning animal cages at the SPCA, but not going to jail, as part of their sentences for exchanging punches during a game early last month.
They also received a tongue-lashing Thursday from Amherst Town Justice Mark G. Farrell for the poor example they set for young people.
Lawrence Falzone, 47, of Amherst, and Dana A. DiBernardo, 41, of Getzville, pleaded guilty in Amherst Town Court to disorderly conduct, a violation, for their actions in a Nov. 3 game between teams of 9- and 10-year-olds.
"You both need to understand your positions as role models for young kids," Farrell told them. "Sanctioning violence as a way to resolve disputes on an athletic field not only sets a bad example for kids, but it leads to public acceptance of violence in pro sports."
Farrell sentenced each to 50 hours of community service at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They also are not allowed to coach any sport for a full year. Their cases will be dismissed in a year, as long as they stay out of further legal trouble.
Saying that both men lost their perspective and exercised poor judgment, Farrell told them they should be ashamed of themselves.
The incident occurred after one of the young football players sacked the opposing quarterback, leading to an exchange of words between the two teams, according to police reports and witnesses' accounts. One coach went on the field and said something to an opposing player, prompting the other coach to go onto the field to protect his player and provoke a confrontation between the coaches.
While police stopped short of calling the disturbance a brawl, several spectators had to separate the combatants and break up the fight. One adult suffered a swollen eye, and the other had pain and swelling to his mouth, police said.
DiBernardo and Falzone were charged with disorderly conduct, a violation that falls short of a misdemeanor. Such a charge can lead to 15 days in jail and/or a $250 fine, but such first-time offenders rarely get jail time.
"I want to send a message that there's all too much violence on the sporting fields," the judge said. "These are 10-year-old kids. We have to try to set standards for these children, because they're at a very formative stage."
Both coaches apologized. Farrell pointed out that the 50 hours of service at the SPCA, with all that it presumably entails, might encourage both men to be humble while serving their community.