ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A La Cueva High School boys soccer player went to urgent care and was held out of practice this week after a Highland High player punched and kicked him during a game last weekend.
The attack was described as “horrible” and the New Mexico Activities Association is investigating the incident.
Alex Jimenez, a freshman for the Hornets’ varsity, assaulted La Cueva freshman Chris Manning when the teams met Saturday in a pool play game of the Albuquerque Metro Championships at the APS Complex, according to both Manning and multiple eyewitnesses.
It occurred near the end of the match, with La Cueva leading 4-1. The game was stopped after the fight.
Veteran photographer Carlos Montoya, who was shooting the game for ABQ Sports Magazine, said the scene was “horrible.”
Montoya said Jimenez threw one or two punches then got up and kicked Manning in the back.
Jimenez tackled Manning cleanly, according to Bears head coach Kevin Driggs, whose bench was only a few feet away.
“It wasn’t a dirty tackle,” Driggs said.
“On the way down, my kid kind of grabbed him a little bit, caught his shoulder on the way down, trying to catch himself,” Driggs added.
Jimenez punched Manning while both were on the ground, Driggs said. Driggs counted only one punch; Manning said it landed on the side of the head, and Driggs described it as “a full swing.”
Then the incident escalated.
“He (Jimenez) stood up and literally waited three or four more seconds and then he kicked him,” Driggs said.
Manning was kicked in the tailbone, he said.
“I was in shock,” Manning told the Journal on Tuesday afternoon. “At first, I didn’t feel any pain, and then it hit me like four or five seconds later.”
NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said that her office had just received the officials’ game report late Tuesday afternoon.
“I can’t say much,” she said. “I don’t know much yet. In situations where there is maybe a fight or a scuffle, we look at the entire game.”
Manning said he had a friendly chat with Jimenez at a University of New Mexico men’s soccer game last Friday, the night before their schools met, and said the two had no history in club soccer that would have led to this.
Manning said he was in so much pain Sunday that he went to urgent care for X-rays. Manning said he didn’t believe there was any damage, but said doctors told him there was a chance he had a hairline fracture in his tailbone.
“I’ve never seen anybody go after somebody so fast and so maliciously,” Driggs said.
Driggs said Highland’s players were upset with their freshman teammate “and extremely apologetic that it happened, and helped our player off the field. I thought it would turn into a fight (between the teams), but it did not.”
Jimenez was one of three ejections in the match.
Highland coach Daniel Malott and the Hornets’ German Rojero both had been tossed from the match a few minutes earlier.
Malott said one of his players had been given a yellow card, and when he asked for a clarification on the reason, he said he was ejected. This came in roughly the 65th minute.
“I didn’t curse, I wasn’t screaming at the official. I asked for a simple explanation,” Malott said.
Sitting nearby, Rojero said something to the official in Spanish and the official red-carded Rojero out of the game as well, according to Malott.
“I think a lot of this started by me getting ejected,” Malott said.
There had been several yellow cards issued during the match, which both head coaches said was not overly chippy. Two of the cards went to La Cueva players, one to Highland, Driggs said.
“I had no issues with the game at all,” Driggs said. “I didn’t have issues until the kick.”
Malott said he did not see the skirmish, although Montoya took photos of Malott lingering just outside the chain-link fence at the complex after he had been ejected.
The NMAA’s policy on ejections says a coach must “leave the premises” after being ejected.
“He should have been out of sight, out of mind,” Marquez said. Malott could face additonal sanctions from the NMAA for sticking around, she added.
After Malott was ejected, Montoya said he saw the coach watching the game through the fence. He said he snapped a photo of Malott just after the game was stopped.
Montoya said he has numerous more photographs of the scene that will be posted on www.ABQSportsMag.com on Friday, when the monthly magazine comes out for September.
Malott said Jimenez was definitely at fault.
“He let his emotions get the best of him,” Malott said.
Jimenez is facing a lengthy team suspension, regardless of whatever punishment is doled out by the NMAA, Malott said, adding that he spoke to Jimenez on Monday, but did not ask him for his version of events.
“It wasn’t his turn to talk,” Malott said. “I talked to him. I wasn’t asking for explanations. Alex is going to face a sizable suspension.”
Malott, Rojero and Jimenez all must miss Highland’s next match, which is today in the consolation bracket against Albuquerque Academy.
Malott said he wouldn’t appeal his suspension. But he said he did plan to file a report with the NMAA.
“In my opinion, it was the referee that escalated the tension of this game,” Malott said. “There was no bad blood between us and La Cueva.”
Malott said he expected the NMAA to suspend Jimenez.
Malott was schedule to meet today with Highland administrators to discuss the situation, Hornets athletic director John Barnhill said.
La Cueva AD Lee Ann Moores said she was nearby the Highland fans and said she didn’t hear anything like that about Highland fans.
“But I do know the Highland fans were pretty worked up,” she said.
Montoya said Highland parents made the situation worse.
“It was a good lesson learned for me to get video interviews, because there was so much commotion,” Montoya said. “The Highland parents and fans were definitely provoking (the players and the referees). They were also provoking the parents of La Cueva. Some of the La Cueva fans seemed concerned for their safety when they were leaving.”
Montoya said he heard one Highland fan yell, “Punch him, punch him. Make him eat grass.”
“And the fans were cussing at the referees, too,” Montoya said.
“I went out to shoot pictures of what I thought was going to be a good game. I’ve been shooting for 15 years, this is the first time I’ve seen something like this.”
Driggs had a brief talk with Malott after the game.
“Daniel apologized to me after the game, and was remorseful,” Driggs said.