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Refs Who Walked Amid HS Player Protests Seek Return

Paul Steinbach

An emergency hearing was scheduled for today by the Central Jersey Chapter of the New Jersey Football Officials Association to review the conduct of Ernie Lunardelli, the high school football official who walked off the field along with his son after four Monroe High School players kneeled during the national anthem at a game Friday night. Lundardelli, who subsequently was removed from his three remaining officiating assignments this season, seeks reinstatement and is prepared to take legal action, if necessary.

“Anybody that disrespects the flag, in my eyes, it’s not right,” said the elder Lunardelli, in his 18th season as a prep football official, according to mycentraljersey.com. “What they are doing with this kneeling and everything, they have the right do to that, but the national anthem has nothing to do with them kneeling. The flag has got nothing to do with why they are protesting. If they want to protest, let them protest, but don’t disrespect our country, the flag and the armed forces.”

In a statement released late Monday afternoon by his attorney, Lunardelli added that "a discussion might be appropriate, and where we can better understand why young players kneel, and why they kneel at the time they do. Also, where they can maybe understand why we refused to officiate a football game, and why we did it at the time we chose. There are rights and wrongs on both sides and we would welcome that discussion if an appropriate forum can be arranged."

The person in charge of officiating assignments for the Greater Middlesex Conference said Lundardelli's removal from future assignments was based on uncertainty of how he might react if players were to kneel in protest at those games. Lundardelli says he feels actions didn't receive a proper investigation — a violation of his due process rights — and that he is being discriminated against based on his views regarding the player protests. He stated that "without a doubt" he planned to pursue a legal remedy, such as an injunction to have his assignments reinstated.

Today's hearing represents the first level of due process for officiating disputes, according to Steve Timko, executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which will take up the matter if results of the NJFOA hearing are appealed. 

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