Salem-Keizer Public Schools board member Osvaldo Avila on Tuesday issued an apology for his actions at a high school football game in October.
Avila, who was supporting his son at a West Salem vs. Sheldon football game in Eugene, was investigated by the district after he put his hand on the back of a referee’s head because of his frustration with a call, according to a third-party investigative report commissioned by the district.
Descriptions of the incident
District administrators received a complaint on Oct. 26 about Avila reportedly violating the Oregon School Activities Association’s spectator conduct rules.
According to the complaint, Lane County Football Officials Association Commissioner Mike Whitty said at the end of the West Salem vs. Sheldon High School junior varsity game that day the West Salem fans “got overly excited about a call by the officials.”
“The Sheldon quarterback spiked the ball to stop the clock from a shotgun snap. This rule was changed five to six years ago to allow a player to spike the ball from this formation,” Whitty explained in the written complaint. “Not a big deal that the fans got excited and yelled. It’s understandable that people wouldn’t know the rule change.”
Whitty wrote that a fan then walked over to the exit and waited for the officials to approach.
“The man put his hand forcefully on the back of the head referee and said, ‘I am on the Salem-Keizer School Board and I will be calling OSAA to report you tomorrow,'” he said.
Whitty said he asked the officials to look at a photo of the school board to identify the man. The officials, he wrote, clearly identified him as Avila.
Whitty said the officials at the game continued to walk away from Avila and did not respond. He said they then conferred, after they were away from Avila, and agreed the situation needed to be written up as a post-game fan ejection.
Avila had a different account of the events.
In a statement to the Statesman Journal following the incident, Avila said he gave the official a “sportsmanship pat on the back” and said, “Good game, guys, but as a board member, I’ll be reaching out to OSAA about tonight’s game.”
He then turned around and walked away, he said. Avila recalled the head official saying, “Okay, you do that,” as they also walked away.
Avila said he showed no animosity throughout the engagement. He also argues the issue is about the entire game, not just one play, as the complaint indicates. He was there to support his son and the team.
The incident violated the Oregon School Activities Association’s spectator conduct rules.
Following the investigation, the district has banned Avila from all Salem-Keizer sports activities through Sept. 30.
“It’s a decision that the district felt was adequate,” and he accepts, Avila told the Statesman Journal.
“I should have never patted the back of the referee,” Avila said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “No referee should be touched by a spectator like I did and for this, I apologize.”
He added he regretted having referenced his school board position during the interaction with the referee.
“That gave the impression to the referees that I was using my position to my advantage with the OSAA,” Avila said. “I didn’t intend that result, but I now understand how improper it was to reference my position as a school board member. The referees of the game at Sheldon on Oct. 26 and all referees and for all sporting events within the OSAA deserve better and I pledge to learn from my mistake.”
The Statesman Journal reported last fall on the struggles of sports officials across the Willamette Valley enduring intense hours, heckling fans and low pay.
Avila has served on the school board since 2021, representing West Salem’s Zone 1 on the seven-member, volunteer board.
Former Statesman Journal reporter Natalie Pate contributed to this article. Edith Noriega is a sports and education reporter for the Statesman Journal. You may reach her at ENoriega@salem.gannett.com and follow her on Twitter at @Noriega_Edith.