Refs take drastic action after high school anthem protest

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Two referees at a New Jersey high school walked off the field in their own form of protest after several players kneeled during the national anthem before their game last Thursday.

“I’ve been in New Jersey interscholastic sports for 48 years and I’ve never seen an official walk off the field unless there was an injury or illness,” Jack DuBois of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) told Yahoo Sports on Monday, after several football players from Monroe High School took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. “It’s unprecedented.”

A referee and his son – a line judge – reportedly stormed off the field. As a result of their reaction to the players’ protest, Ernie Lunardelli and his son Anthony are unlikely to work any more games this season, according to reports.

“If they walked off once,” Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) officials assigner Thomas Paulikas asked reporters, “what’s going to keep them from doing it tomorrow or the next day?”

“They’ve got a right to protest and so do we,” Anthony Lunardelli told MyCentralJersey.com. “[Protesting during the anthem] is not how I was brought up, and that’s not how I was raised. I’m not criticizing their right. That’s just my viewpoint.”

NJ Advance Media then searched for and found racially offensive social media posts by the elder referee, Ernie Lunardelli. On Jan. 21, he reportedly posted under a photo of former President Barack Obama, “Thanks for [expletive] up the country!! Back to the zoo!!”

The news outlet reached out to Lunardelli, who explained, “I was hacked. I’m not a racist. My best friend is black.”

Players at Monroe High School had been kneeling since September, but Lunardelli said he told the officials’ assigner weeks before that he would vacate a game in which there were player protests. Fearing that he could be blackballed, he said he’d hired a lawyer in advance.

The officials’ assigner, however, disputes his claim. “No, I don’t recall that ever, having a conversation with him about walking off the field ever,” Paulikas said. “He’s a very good official and I’m very surprised that they did what they did.” Chain crew workers were used to replace the Lunardellis on Friday.

Colts Neck coach Darian Barnes told reporters that he was alerted to the possibility of a delay if players protested.

Barnes said that before they walked off the field, Ernie Lunardelli screamed at the kneeling players. Lunardelli says that’s not true.

“To me, he’s a coward,” Barnes told NJ Advance Media. “You don’t stand there and scream at a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds who are just expressing their rights the same as he was expressing his. He’s a grown man. After you tell the other adults what you are going to do, you don’t turn around and scream at kids. That’s what needs to be addressed.”

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