Jersey-Swap Ends HS Season, Coaching Staff Fired

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Cardinal Ritter (Mo.) College Prep’s football season came to an abrupt end last week, as an investigation revealed that the team had used an ineligible player in its first game of the season.

According to St. Louis NBC affiliate KSDK, the entire incident revolves around junior running back Bill Jackson. Jackson had been deemed ineligible for the season opener because he had been ejected from the Class 3 state championship game in the prior season. However, he appears to have never served that suspension. 

Reporting by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revealed that Jackson played in the Aug. 31 game, but wore a different jersey to disguise his identity. The Post-Dispatch reports that Jackson wore an alternative jersey and was identified on the roster as freshman Marvin Burkes, but returned to his traditional jersey number after his eligibility was reinstated in week two of the season.

Jackson has unique tattoos on his arms that were identifiable in photos from both games. Likewise, Cardinal Ritter coach Brandon Gregory posted video to his Instagram account that appears to show Jackson engaged in a pregame huddle call-and-response prior to both games — but with Jackson in different jerseys.

The fallout from the revelation was swift and severe. Since the Post-Dispatch report, Cardinal Ritter has called off its football season, forfeited the games it played, fired the entire coaching staff, and announced its athletic director would retire. 

The decisions were announced in a statement from Cardinal Ritter president Tamiko Amistead. 

“This week, we learned of an alleged incident involving one of our scholar-athletes who played in our first regular-season football game, for which he was ineligible,” the statement read. “As soon as we became aware of the incident, we began an internal investigation. Upon finding the allegation to be true, we self-reported the incident to the Missouri State High School Athletic Association (MSHSAA), and began a further collaborative investigation with the organization.

“Based on further review of the results of that investigation, in which we worked closely with the Archdiocese of St. Louis, we have decided to suspend the Cardinal Ritter football program for the remainder of this school year. In addition to the suspension of the program, all current coaches serving the Cardinal Ritter football team will be permanently released from Cardinal Ritter College Prep immediately. Furthermore, Cardinal Ritter’s Athletic Director, Preston Thomas, has made the decision to retire.”

Since his firing, Gregory tried to explain the situation in an interview with St. Louis CBS affiliate KMOV, telling the television station that he simply didn’t know the rules regarding the suspension. He also denied that Jackson’s jersey-swap was designed as part of a cover-up.

“That’s a thing our kids do on a regular basis, you know, they try to change jersey numbers and sometimes don’t let us know,” Gregory told KMOV.

The reeling school community held a parent meeting on Sunday to talk about how best to move forward. 

“We just have to stand together because at this point you really don’t know what’s going to happen but if you look forward for something brighter it may get better,” football parent Haniyyah Shields told KMOV. “You gotta stick together, that’s the main thing.”

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