As Gina O’Toole sat in the stands watching a fight break out among players in her teenage son’s hockey game and seeing the referees do nothing, the Boston-area mom says she knew she had to do something.
She also knew she had to take her pocketbook with her.
“What was I supposed to do with it, throw it into the stands and say, ‘Hey, could you hold this? I have to break up a hockey fight?’” O’Toole said today on “Good Morning America” of the white purse she never let go of while storming the ice and yelling at the refs to break up the fight.
That purse and O’Toole’s dramatic step to break up the fight between players of the Boston Raptors and the Connecticut Tribe – two teams representing Boston youth summer programs – made her a hero among moms when video of the incident was posted on YouTube.
O’Toole’s identity had remained a mystery until today when she appeared on “GMA” to explain why she took action.
“I’ve seen fights usually between one or two children and the refs usually step in immediately and break it up. That didn’t happen,” she said. “I just found myself opening the gate and walking onto the ice and saying, ‘Hey, you need to get control of this game. What are you doing?’”
“The ref turned around and he yelled at me and told me to get off the ice and I said, ‘You need to do your job,’” she said. “What concerned me was the feeling of the blows to the back of the head and a child going down the ice of maybe a potential head injury.”
Media reports at the time described an atmosphere of chaos in the stands as some of O’Toole’s fellow spectators yelled at her to stop the fight and others screamed at her to get off the ice.
O’Toole says they were just looking out for her safety.
“I was told that people were more afraid of me falling and injuring myself,” she said. “A lot of the people that were there were feeling the same feelings that I was feeling, that, ‘What is going on? This is insane. It’s gone on too long. Why aren’t the referees stepping in?’”
Despite her non-threatening white purse and the bright pink jacket she was wearing, O’Toole’s admonition proved more threatening than the black-and-white striped referees. The fight quickly ended once she was out on the ice.
O’Toole says her son, Mark, 16, was initially embarrassed but later understood why his mom did what she did.
The fight-breaking, hockey-mom-gone-rogue, however, had to call it a day after her heroic efforts.
“He had a second game that evening,” she said of her son Mark. “I called my husband to come down for that game. I went home.”