ENGLISHTOWN — A protest by high school referees has threatened to put the state’s hockey season on ice, school officials claim.

The Friday night game between Howell High School and Robbinsville High School was abruptly canceled as a result of the referees’ boycott, which district officials said is aimed in opposition on the Freehold district’s ban on two referees who were involved in a post-game brawl with parents last season.

The district has six high schools in Monmouth County, including Howell.

But Dave Brown, president of the National Ice Hockey Officials Association Metro NY/NJ, and one of the two referees in the brawl, said Friday that there is no official boycott and noted that high school hockey games across the state were being played Friday night.

Brown and Sal Bianco say they were assaulted by two parents following a Feb. 7 Manalapan-Howell hockey match.

No charges were filed by Howell police and individual complaints were dropped after an April mediation session.

Earlier this week, Brown told New Jersey 101.5 that the pair would no longer be allowed to officiate games in the Freehold district, which has six high schools in Monmouth County.

That apparently prompted the boycott by fellow referees.

Brown, however, said his organization has not sanctioned any boycott and noted that every referee is an independent contractor who can choose whether to accept a game assignment.

In a statement issued earlier in the day, district officials said they “were extremely disappointed and dismayed” to learn about the boycott by other referees.

“It is concerning and disappointing that these adults have based their decision to punish our children and children of other districts who have invested the time and effort to represent their schools in the sport that they love, based on the incomplete version of what occurred that has been made public,” the district said in a statement.

“This decision, which was communicated with little advanced notice, has resulted in the cancellation of at least one game and threatens future games as well.”

The district said published reports about the brawl "omitted" the fact that the district "conducted an immediate and full investigation, and that as a result of that investigation appropriate measures and action were taken against all parties involved for their inappropriate conduct."

"To the detriment of our students, and the students of other high schools, several referees, who do not have a full and complete understanding of all that led up and occurred during the incident last season, have chosen to boycott games involving District teams."

The statement says the district "has been working closely with the NJSIAA and its affiliated entities to try to resolve the matter, and even offered to a schedule meeting to fully discuss the situation, but that offer has, thus far, been refused."

Brown later told New Jersey 101.5 that he had received no word that the district had reached out to his organization regarding this issue.

According to police reports, Brown and Bianco were approached by the two parents in the referee locker room. During the game, a player’s mother was ejected and parents believed Brown made derogatory comments about her, which he denies.

One of the parents — Robert Dovenero — allegedly grabbed Brown by the throat and a brawl ensued. Both parents refused medical care and the referees were treated at a local hospital.

Dovenero and Brown are now suing each other.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated to include comments from Dave Brown.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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