Middleburg youth football coach charged in post-game brawl

Witnesses say he punched 3 opposing players, 1 in the face and throat

By Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Middleburg youth football coach faces multiple felony charges after several witnesses told police he punched three opposing players during a post-game brawl in New Smyrna Beach.

Larry "Shawn" Cruce, 33, of Orange Park, was released from custody following his arrest over the weekend on three counts of child abuse without great harm, Volusia County jail records show.

The incident unfolded immediately after Saturday's game between the Middleburg Broncos and the New Smyrna Beach Cudas at the New Smyrna Beach Sports Complex.

Witnesses were split on what went down. Cudas' coaches, players and parents suggested Cruce was the aggressor. But that's not how the Middleburg side remembers things happening.

When News4Jax first went to Cruce's home on Tuesday, no one answered the door. The second time, he was there but said, "I want all media to stop harassing me."

Walter Woodard, president of the Middleburg Athletic Association, told News4Jax that his organization will have no comment on the incident until the police investigation is completed.

DOCUMENTS: Read the redacted arrest affidavit for Larry Cruce

The episode began when several players got into an argument after the final play of the game, according to Cruce's arrest report. Things escalated when a fight broke out on the field.

The Broncos sideline cleared as players and coaches streamed onto the field, a parent told police. At one point, she said, she saw Cruce yank a Cudas player's helmet off and punch him in the face.

"Their team was winning so I don't understand why they were so mad," said Charmaine Winters, the mother of one of the players Cruce is accused of attacking.

That player told investigators he was removing his helmet when he was punched, resulting in an abrasion below his right eye.

Another mother, who told police she wished to press charges, said she too watched as Cruce punched her son during the melee, according to the arrest report.

One of the Cudas' coaches recalled seeing Cruce punch three players, including one who was hit in the face and another who was struck in the face and throat, the report stated.

Multiple witnesses said things got so out of hand that Broncos' players parents jumped in and physically dragged Cruce off the field.

"That shouldn't have happened," Omahari Meeks, one of the New Smyrna Beach players Cruce is accused of attacking, told News4Jax's sister station in Orlando, WKMG-TV. "He shouldn't have did that. It's not right."

What Cruce had to say is unclear. Much of his statement was redacted from the report.

Several witnesses from the Middleburg side said they saw coaches break up the fight. They did not, however, recall seeing any players attacked by a coach.

Alexander Beckett, the league commissioner, said there is footage of the game but noted it does not show Cruce throw a punch. He said he won't release the video until he's spoken with his attorney.

According to court records, Cruce has a history of arrests in Clay County. Beginning in 2003, he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of trespassing on school grounds. In 2004, he was arrested on a charge of lewd and lascivious molestation, which was changed to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In 2005, he faced grand theft and criminal mischief charges. Then in 2007, he faced charges of grand theft and burglary.

Duval County court records also show Cruce was found guilty of burglary stemming from a 2004 arrest.

"You have your kids going to a place where you're supposed to trust adults, and you have someone who is trying to go after other kids? Not OK," said Michelle Lorditch, who recently pulled her child out of the Middleburg Athletic Association. "If I had done my research, I would have gone somewhere else. Do your research before you stick your kid anywhere."

Woodard declined to comment on Cruce's background.

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