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Fight over kids’ game ends in death

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READING, Mass. — It began as a fight about fighting.

Two fathers, upset about rough play in their sons' youth hockey game, came to blows, police say.

One of the fathers was beaten into unconciousness — in front of some children — and died a day later. And a man who faced a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery for the fight now might be charged with something much more serious.

Michael Costin, a 40-year-old single father of four from Lynnfield, was on the ice Wednesday afternoon at the Burbank Ice Arena with a group of kids, including two of his own. Thomas Junta, 42, was in the stands.

The hockey game was supposed to be non-contact, but Junta got agitated when things got rough and some players began checking.

"Somebody may have struck or run into somebody on the ice," Lt. Detective Kevin Patterson said.

Junta and Costin began arguing with one another, and a rink manager threw Junta out because of the shouting, police said. But by the time Costin took off his skates and left the ice, Junta was back in the building.

Junta, who police said is 6-foot-1 and weighs 275 pounds, knocked Costin to the floor and with his fists pummeled Costin in the head, police said. Another adult broke up the fight, but Costin was unconscious. He died Thursday night.

Junta had already faced charges of assault and battery.

Middlesex district attorney Martha Coakley said it is possible that new charges will be filed once investigators have received results from an autopsy scheduled for Saturday.

"We are now treating this death as a possible homicide," she said.

The National Youth Alliance for Youth Sports, which teaches parental ethics and monitors behavior at sporting events, said it had never heard of a death resulting from a fight involving parents at a youth sporting event.

Richard Lapchick, director of the Center for the Study of Sports and Society at Northeastern University, said he hears or reads at least once a month about parents picking fights at their children's games, either with referees, coaches or other parents.

He said fighting has become more common over the past 5-10 years as parents put increasing pressure on their children to succeed at sports, particularly as a way of paving their way to college and other achievements.

"It sadly does not come as a surprise that something like this would happen," Lapchick said.

"I think people are just horrified by it," said Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner. "I always thought in Reading we didn't have the typical Little League parent who goes screaming at the umpire."

After the fight, the rink announced it was closing until July 8, but since the death, the rink is closed indefinitely.