JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A local mother is speaking out for the first time since a youth football game between a Middleburg team and an opponent from Volusia County ended in a melee over the weekend.
In a Thursday interview with News4Jax, Sporty Thigpen said she was at the game in New Smyrna Beach that turned violent after the final play, leading to the arrest of a Middleburg Broncos coach.
Thigpen said she never saw Broncos coach Larry "Shawn" Cruce hit anyone during Saturday's brawl, but she did recall seeing a parent of an opposing player attack Cruce.
Cruce, 33, of Orange Park was released from the Volusia County jail after posting bond. He is charged with three felony counts of child abuse after witnesses reported seeing him punch three players.
"We did not see coach hit any children or parents or anything," she said. "We did see a parent hit him."
She said she doesn't understand how Cruce, who has a criminal history, could have passed a background check to become a coach with the Middleburg Athletic Association.
"He actually coaches my 15-year-old on one of the bigger teams and I've never seen him that way," said Thigpen, who described Cruce as a "normal guy."
"As a coach, he's a good person," she added. "It does kind of scare me because we heard of his record and some things...we did not know."
She said she and her husband both had to clear extensive background checks necessary for her to become a team mom and for him to become a coach.
"These are supposed to be people that are supposed to be influencing our children and we can't even get a background check right? We can't hire people that treat our children with respect?" she wondered.
But beyond Saturday's highly-publicized brawl, Thigpen said there are many additional concerns she and other parents have about how the Middleburg Athletic Association is run.
She said her daughter was kicked off a softball team run by the association and she's currently fighting to get her reinstated. She said her daughter was belittled by coaches and league officials.
"I hugged my baby and told her not to listen to stuff like that and that those are just bad people," she said.
What's more, Thigpen said the association struggles with even the most basic of duties, such as keeping the public restrooms safe and sanitary. She said she's often found broken glass on the floor.
"Our park is not being cleaned up the way that it should be... to the point that we have walked into the bathroom and stepped on feces."
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