Salem-Keizer board director banned from games following referee confrontation

A Salem-Keizer School Board director is banned from attending school sports events through September after confronting a football referee following an October game.

Osvaldo Avila will also be unable to attend any games against Eugene schools through the fall 2023 playoff season, Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry said.

The ban comes after an outside investigator hired by the district found Avila put his hand on a Eugene football referee’s back while disputing the crew’s calls.

Avila’s son was playing in the game against Sheldon High School.

Avila offered an apology for his behavior at the start of Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“No referee should be touched by a spectator like I did and for this I apologize,” Avila said.

He said he also regretted mentioning his school board position.

“That gave the impression to the referees that I was using my position to my advantage with the (Oregon School Activities Association). I didn’t intend that result but I now understand how improper it was,” he said. “The referees with Sheldon on the 26th and all referees for all sporting events within the OSAA deserve better and I pledge to learn from my mistake.”

He told Salem Reporter he would abide by the district’s decision to bar him from games until next fall.

“As a board member I also expect consequences for adults attending school activities. That includes myself,” he said during his apology.

Attorney Kyle Abraham investigated the incident, interviewing Avila, the referee in question and a referee witness. He issued a report to Perry on Dec. 13, updating it Jan. 5. Perry released the report following a request from Salem Reporter.

Typically, fan behavior issues and consequences are determined at the school level by athletic directors or principals and don’t involve district leadership or the superintendent. Perry determined consequences for Avila because she didn’t feel it was right to ask school leadership to set consequences due to his board position, she said.

The report says Avila approached a Eugene referee, referred to as “D.P.,” from the West Salem sideline following the game, saying he was a school board member and planned to report the referees to OSAA for poor performance.

He then touched D.P. on the back.

“The touching was described as ‘not a hard touch’ and ‘two solid pats.’ The touching did not move D.P., as he is a large individual. But, D.P. was not ‘happy with it.’ Avila and D.P. did not know each other before this encounter,” the report read.

Abraham noted that the facts of the encounter were largely not in dispute. Avila admitted to touching D.P., describing it as a “show of sportsmanship” and saying the referee was bigger than him.

“Avila reported that he did not think the game was called fairly. He thought Sheldon was getting an extreme amount of favorable calls to the disadvantage of West Salem. There were blatant face mask penalties missed by the referees. There was a play where the Sheldon running back fumbled the ball and hit the pylon, which should have resulted in a touch back and the ball should have been awarded to West Salem; however, it was not called. This upset Avila,” the report said.

Abraham concluded Avila’s touch was not hard, but was unwanted and didn’t give the referee the option to decline, as a hand extended for a handshake would have.

“Additionally, I find there is no reason why Avila identified himself as a board member when encountering D.P. Avila explained that it was to ‘advocate’ for the student athletes, but there was no advocacy done during the encounter with D.P.,” he wrote in the report.

Abraham’s report did not recommend consequences.

Perry said she reached her decision after discussions with officials in both Salem-Keizer and Eugene.

“One of the take-aways from this reflection is that more consistent policy regarding fan conduct is needed across the state, including accountability for poor behavior. We are committed to pursuing this in Salem-Keizer in partnership with OSAA, along with input from our officials. We can do much better by our officials who work hard to keep our youth playing in athletic competitions. We all know athletics and activities are beneficial to our youth and contribute to a healthy community,” Perry said in an email to Salem Reporter.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.