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After dad dresses as ref to sway high school football game, losing team parents sue to reverse result

Referees conference at a high school football game in Virginia in September. (Will Newton for The Washington Post)

The game ended on the 2-yard line, but that’s where the controversy began in a suburban Chicago high school football playoff game.

Simeon Career School was down a touchdown to Nazareth Academy and driving down the field in the Illinois Class 7A state quarterfinal game on Nov. 11. Nazareth held Simeon out of the end zone on one handoff, then made another goal line stand on the next play.

As the clock ticked down, officials were confused about where to spot the ball and time expired before Simeon could get off a final play. Nazareth held on for the upset, 34-27.

But Simeon parents had some questions about the game’s officiating, especially the presence of a Nazareth parent dressed in a full referee uniform and standing on the Nazareth sideline, talking with the officials throughout the game.

Now Simeon parents and athletic boosters are suing the Illinois High School Association, arguing that the officials, and the IHSA that sanctions them, breached their contract with the state’s member schools. They are asking the court to prohibit the IHSA from declaring a winner in the game.

“According the IHSA’s rules and By-laws, attempted, perceived, and actual collusion with game officials is illegal,” the suit states. “IHSA’s actions have caused and continue to cause immediate, severe, and irreparable injury to Plaintiffs for which no adequate remedy at law exists.”

According to Simeon’s legal complaint, the parent dressed as a ref “conferenced” with the game officials before kickoff and during the action “communicated with the referees working with the game.” He also stood, the suit alleges, within the restricted area on the sideline where only players, coaches and officials are allowed.

After the game, the parent wrote in Facebook comments, “I didn’t make one bad call. I made sure the best team won,” “Naz needed me,” and, “I did was what was needed to make sure Naz won.”

In the nine days since the quarterfinal, Nazareth won its semifinal game and is set to play for a state championship this week. The Simeon plaintiffs want Batavia High School, the team Nazareth defeated in the semifinal, to play for the state title instead, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“I think it’s important that we stand up for these kids,” Shay Allen, one of the attorneys representing Simeon, said. “They’ve worked hard. Sports are a metaphor for life. If you work hard at something, you should get a good result.”

Read the full complaint here:

Courts are generally loath to intervene to change the outcome of a sporting event, legal scholar Paul Anderson of Marquette University Law School told the Tribune.

A judge in Cook County, Ill., the same county in which the Simeon-Nazareth game was played, ruled in 2016 in favor of the ISHA when another football team asked the court to reverse the result of a game that ended with a clear misinterpretation of the rules.

“A bad call by a ref is a breach of contract?” an ISHA lawyer said at the time in the Tribune. “There’s no case that holds that. The result that they’re looking for is absurd.”

Still, Simeon hopes a judge rules otherwise on its legal Hail Mary. Allen, the one of the attorneys, said the school filed an appeal with the IHSA last week but did not receive a response. It is proceeding with the lawsuit, he said, because “time is of the essence.”

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