Action News Jax Investigates: Safety questions after St. Johns County student body-slammed during soccer match

Child body slammed on the soccer field

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates the safety protocols of an area youth sports league after a player was pushed, punched and body-slammed during a middle school soccer match.

“You are, you’re saying he [your son] was body-slammed, him, right here?” Action News Jax’s Ben Becker asked Jasmyne Monroe about the incident at Aberdeen Park.

“Yes, right here,” Monroe said.

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Monroe’s son is a sixth grader at Switzerland Point Middle School, while the other child is an eighth grader at another St. Johns County middle school.

“The deans said their hands were tied, and they don’t have jurisdiction,” Monroe said.

Becker went to work and discovered the schools are part of the St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association.

Becker found the licensing agreement between the association and the St. Johns County School District, which licenses out the use of school athletic facilities, names, logos and mascots, but the association is independent of the school district.

“Is this ... an unusual arrangement from your experience?” Becker asked John Engh, the executive director of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

“It’s nothing I see very often — that’s for sure,” Engh said.

The group has trained and certified thousands of organizations, but the St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association is not one of them.

Engh said he’s concerned about the age disparity of the players.

“Should sixth graders be playing with eighth graders?” Becker asked.

“The simple answer for our organization is no,” Engh said.

Becker reached out to both the St. Johns County School District and the president of the St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association to ask about this incident.

Paul Abbatinozzi, senior director of school services for the St. Johns County School District, emailed a statement to Becker:

“SJMSAA (St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association) is one of several youth sports associations in our county aligned with the St. Johns County Parks and Recreation Department. They are a not-for-profit corporation that operates completely independent of the St. Johns County School District. They utilize the school district names and logos by a licensing agreement only. That said, we certainly do not condone conduct or activities that reflect unfavorably on the district or schools. As with other youth sports associations that our students across the district participate with, we do not oversee their organizational decisions, process and procedures related to things such as fees, structure for try-outs, final rosters, securing officials, discipline of athletes, scheduling of fields for practices or contests, etc. I am confident the SJMSAA will follow up with athletic concerns and remain consistent with their policies and practice as they have in the past when dealing with athletes, parents, spectators and such.”

When Becker asked whether the older child was disciplined, St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association President Justin Palesotti emailed this statement:

“First let me preface this email with the understanding that SJMSAA (St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association) is a not for profit corporation that operates completely independent of the School District of St. Johns County. We utilize the school district names and logos by a licensing agreement only. Upon learning of the situation and with only one game remaining in the tournament, the SJMSAA tournament committee removed the player in violation of the student athlete code of conduct in the video. Additionally, SJMSAA at my direction is reviewing the events that led up to this incident so we can be sure to take the corrective actions with our industry partners so as to be sure incidents like this are mitigated in the future. Due to the ongoing review of this incident, we have no further comment at this time.”

In 2016, Action News Jax first told you the association suspended three 11-year-old girls from its cheerleading team indefinitely. It was after a photo was posted on Facebook showing them in their uniforms holding beer bottles.

Monroe said she’s still waiting on an apology from the league, the parents and the child in the video.

“It’s important this child is held accountable for his actions and understand if you attack someone or do things like this, there are consequences to follow,” Monroe said.

Monroe said her son suffered some neck and shoulder pain, and she is considering pressing charges with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.