Prosecution slap shot

Taking sport to court

BY WARREN COHEN

February 7, 2000 (266 words)

CHICAGO--As one boy goes home in a wheelchair, another boy charged with putting him there may be walking into court in a case that provides a dark view of high school sports--and what can happen when winning becomes everything.

Ice hockey, with its mix of speed, brute force, and fierce competitiveness, has always had its share of injuries. But there are limits--and prosecutors say a 15-year-old player crossed them last November in Gurnee, Ill., when he smacked rival player Neal Goss, 15, in the back with a hockey stick, causing him to careen into the boards that surround the rink, severing his spinal cord. Goss was left paralyzed; the other boy, whose name has not been released, was charged with aggravated battery. He faces five years in juvenile detention. The trial is expected to begin in several weeks.

The boy's lawyers insist that he rammed his rival as part of a game that was still in progress; Strickland says the timing is irrelevant. "The kid wasn't merely attempting to play hockey but intending to hurt his opponent," says George Strickland, the Lake County assistant state's attorney.

The case comes as parents and coaches are being increasingly criticized for pushing young athletes too far. And it once again tackles the question of whether athletes should be responsible for violent behavior during contact sports. So far, U.S. courts and juries have said no, that every athlete accepts a degree of danger in suiting up. The Goss family disagrees: It has also filed a civil suit against the opposing coach and the youth hockey associations.