RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--When fun on the field takes a drastic turn, and screams from the stands lead to confrontation, it only takes seconds for things to spiral way out of control.
That's what happened to one Utah soccer referee who was allegedly punched in the face by a player. The referee slipped into a coma and later passed away.
Local referees here in Central Virginia tell CBS 6 News this latest tragedy just underscores how dangerous their jobs can be sometimes. A passion for sports led William Dillon to the field.
He has been officiating for more than 25 years. Nowadays not only does he have to keep his eyes on the game, he says he has to keep his eyes on the stands as well.
Dillon explained that he has seen his share of drama from parents, athletes and coaches.
He even endured a physical fight with a player who didn't like the calls Dillon made.
"He thought the referee were cheating. He was still standing on the sidelines talking during the next game. I told him nobody was cheating and that he should leave. He ran on the field, and bumped me then I hit him. I was protecting myself. We ended up in court over this but the judge threw it out," Dillon said.
Because of that volatile situation ten years ago, Dillon is now more cautious of where he and his other referee go.
"If it's not sanctioned, I won't take it on. There's no protection. You don't know who's in the stands and what they'll do," Dillon added.
Sonja Kinney says she too was disturbed to hear about the attack on the Utah referee who later died. She knows how quickly things can escalate. The former UVA track standout once ran a Little League, has a husband who is a high school coach and has children who are very involved in high school and college sports.
"If the parents are berating the coaches and referee, when the kids do it, you're not surprised at all," Kinney explained.
Kinney and Dillon alike believe stronger lessons from the home front can help keep things a little more calm on the field.
"We just have to teach our kids to lose with grace. We have to teach them that losing is as much a part of the game as winning. Some people equate losing with failure and it's not," Kinney said.
Despite the recent tragedy in Utah, Dillon says he still believes things are much better now for referee than ten years ago when he had that physical confrontation with an irate player.
He says now his referees are instructed to call police if things seem to be getting out of control.