Man accused of beating referee after game

By: Marcus Conroy Email
By: Marcus Conroy Email

A basketball official says he was beaten up by an angry fan.

Last week, Michael Eldridge was the referee for a middle school girls basketball game between Cowan Elementary and Beckham Bates in Letcher County.

After the game at Cowan Elementary, Eldridge tells police that Billy Smith struck him repeatedly in the head and arms causing minor injuries. Eldridge says during this beating, Nikki Sanders cursed his officiating and pushed him.

On Tuesday morning, Smith and his sister were arrested and booked at Letcher County Jail.

Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb says fights can happen, but he does not remember the last time a referee was attacked a game.

"I can't remember anyone else going this far to actually get warrants and everything," said Webb.

Letcher Schools Superintendent Anna Craft would not comment on this investigation, but says the schools do everything they can to keep crowds under control.

No police responded until after the fight. Sheriff Webb says the department simply does not have the resources to be present at every game.

"We got seven schools, and each one of them may have a game going on sometimes they happen on the same night. It makes it hard to respond to everything," said Webb.

Smith is charged with misdemeanor assault of a sports official, and Sanders is charged with menacing.

Eldridge told WYMT he says he did not want to comment about the incident.

If convicted, Smith is facing one year in jail and a $500 fine. Sanders could face a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.

Both posted bond and were released from jail. Their pretrial conference is set for November 30.

The KHSAA does not preside over middle school games, but the organization released a statement regarding their policy for high school referee safety:

"The age or the level of play really does not matter - there is no place for violence against any official at any level of any sport. We worked hard to provide a safe working environment for officials in this state and the legislature agreed when they passed a law making it a felony for any attack of an official. We hope that is one of the benefits to the officials who work high school contests - knowing they are going to have the opportunity to work an event where there is zero tolerance for (disrespect of officials) from coaches, players and fans. But officials need to be protected - it's a tough job and by the very nature of it half the people aren't going to like the decisions you make."

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