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Referees Walk Away from New Jersey High School Game over Anthem Protest

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WARNER TODD HUSTON
Monroe Township, NJ

A father and son who were set to officiate during a high school football game in New Jersey, walked off the field when the students took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

Referees Ernie Lunardelli and his son, Anthony, stood on the field with their hands over their hearts as the anthem played, but left as soon as the song ended because they witnessed members of the Monroe Township High School team taking a knee instead of standing, My Central Jersey reported.

Both Lunardellis said they felt that the act of kneeling during the anthem was a sign of disrespect for the country, the flag, and our soldiers.

“Anybody that disrespects the flag, in my eyes, it’s not right,” the elder Lunardelli, said. “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.

“They’ve got a right to protest and so do we,” the younger Lunardelli, a graduate of Monroe High School, said. “That (taking a knee 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.”

The Lunardellis also warned the schools ahead of time that they would not officiate if any players took a knee during the anthem.

School officials said they planned to retaliate against the officials and will file a complaint with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. Apparently, the school is supportive when players want to protest but not when officials do.

“They are trying to get them to not give us any more games, basically saying we put the players’ safety in danger, but we didn’t,” Anthony Lunardelli told the paper. “They obviously had enough officials to do the game. I’m not really worried about (being sanctioned). If I don’t ref again, it won’t be the end of the world.”

Greater Middlesex Conference football committee Chairman Ben LaSala said the matter would be discussed at an upcoming meeting. Neither LaSala nor NJSIAA coordinator of football officials Carmine Picardo would speculate about what actions, if any, would be taken against the father and son referees.

But Ernie Lunardelli said he already received a letter relieving him of his spot officiating at the next game.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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