Friday, May 11, 2007

Toronto teen near death during rugby game

This has all the makings of a Canadian Riaan Loots scandal.

I was saddened to see newspaper boxes solemnly staring at me this morning with big headlines about a near-fatality - and possible homicide - of a Toronto teen playing rugby. The allegations are pretty alarming:

Accident or deadly assault?

Opponent faces criminal charge in Mississauga despite objection by victim's family

Toronto Star
May 11, 2007
Staff Reporters: John Goddard, Christian Cotroneo, Tracy Huffman

The family of 15-year-old Manny Castillo, who is not expected to live after being injured in a high school rugby match, is urging police to drop charges against the opposition player involved.

"We support the police investigation but we do not condone the fact that this kid is charged with assault or that he is in custody," the boy's uncle, Hector Castillo, said last night.

"They were not playing volleyball. They were not playing checkers ... We truly believe it was a freak accident ... I know that (Manny) would not want anything to happen to this kid."

Manny is a star athlete at Lorne Park Secondary School in Mississauga, a forward for the school's Spartans rugby team and captain of the defence line for the football team, on which he plays linebacker.

In the last few seconds of a rugby game Wednesday against the Erindale Raiders, he and an opposing 16-year-old were seen grappling together.

Manny was left on the ground with critical head injuries. Last night he remained on life support at the Hospital for Sick Children with his chances of survival rated zero.

Peel Regional police have charged the opposition player with aggravated assault, charges that could be upgraded in the event of Manny's death.

The player cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

"My son is going to die," tearful father Manuel Castillo said standing outside the critical care room in Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children where he and his wife, Cecilia, had spent the night.

"It may take a day or two."

The family is unanimous about not pressing charges, he said.

"It was an injury," he said. "It wasn't a fight. My life is a mess right now.

"I don't want to affect another kid and make a mess of his life."


Witnesses who saw the play Wednesday said it looked harmless.

"They both had each other in a lock," said Brendan O'Brien, 16, a friend of both students. "He (Manny) fell kind of awkwardly. They weren't mad at each other."

O'Brien said he assumed his friend would get up and walk off the field.

"It is a sport," said Jordan Posocco, 15, a close friend who played football with Manny and was at the game. "Stuff gets heated ... It wasn't out of control."


It had been an exciting game up until those last few seconds, around 4:45 p.m., with the Lorne Park Spartans leading the game and fans from both Mississauga schools filling the bleachers.

What happened in the scrum and immediately afterwards is not known, and police are remaining tight-lipped about the details of the investigation.

"We are still investigating the motive behind the altercation," said Peel police spokesperson Const. J.P. Valade.

The officer declined to comment on whether Manny's injuries were the result of a dispute about the game.

"It was away from normal game play," he said.

"There was an altercation that was not a part of the game."

Read the whole story here.

The Toronto Sun has more online here.

The Sun's print version, co-authored by Jack Boland and Rob Lamberti, quotes Hector Castillo, uncle of the 15-year-old victim, as saying, "We heard there was a fight, another version had him attacked, another it was part of the game."

The Sun print version continues:

Const. Adam Minnion said what occured between the two players was not part of the game."

"I can't stress enough that it wasn't the rugby game that caused this," he said. "It is extraordinary. It is unusual." ...

Maha Zawi [who plays on the Lorne Park girls varsity rugby squad] was at the game but didn't see the full incident, said others saw Manny either picked up and driven head-first into the turf or flipped head-first into the ground."

I'm afraid we just don't know very much at all from these second-hand eye-witness accounts, so it's all wild speculation at this point. It's possible in a game of rugby that players can be "locked-up" disentangling from tackles, scrums, rucks or mauls while the ball is spun wide quickly, or booted down field. In other words, all fully within the game of rugby and "away from the play," so I don't think anybody can say what really happened with any real conviction until we learn more facts.

The net result however, is a tragedy for the young man and his family. Serious physical harm is something that's in the back of the mind of every player who laces up his boots and runs onto the field expecting a hard physical contest. And of course, it's also in the fronts of the minds of every concerned parent who agrees to allow their kids to play the sport. Many will be having pause to re-consider this morning.

It's also true that sporting fields are often used for combatants to settle disputes, a-la the Riaan Loots tragedy. That sort of niggle has to be policed right out of the game. Right now we don't know what happened, but by-and-large most rugby fans can separate the two.

That aside, the sport of rugby in Canada is copping another black eye regardless whatever actually happened. Rightly-or-wrongly it will be finger-pointed for some of the blame and will have to brace itself for the consequences. The incident can't make it any easier for clubs and school teams to recruit new players at the teenage level, and that could affect the performance of our national team down the road. Every little strain hurts.

When the results of the investigation are known, especially if the tragedy is found to have been accidental and not the more sinister assault as is being alleged in these reports, I'd like to hope the Toronto news media will provide the same prominence to the truth as what I am seeing in this mornings' lurid headlines.


At 9:25 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont believe that there should be charges laid on the other boy that was involved in this incident. Rugby is a very violent sport, and the athletes getting involved are aware. It is very sad what happend but there is nothing you can do about it, it was not intentional.

At 9:29 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I offer my condolances to Manny's family. I think that the opposing player should maybe not be charged but perhaps appear in a service devoted to Manny and his accomplishments.

At 9:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont think that the kid should be charged with anything because they were just playing a sport that they both enjoy. there are risks in participating in such violent sports, and this is one of the examples. although I am really sorry for Manny's family.

At 9:32 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think that was only an accident, because if you're going to involve yourself in that kind of sport, you must be aware of the danger about playing on that game.


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