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Did a parent influence an Illinois high school crew? Booster club alleges so in a lawsuit

Losing playoff team sues, accuses parent/official of influencing crew calls.



The booster club for Simeon High School is suing the Illinois High School Association accusing the parent of another team, who is a football referee, of unduly influencing the outcome of the game by swaying the officiating crew to make calls against Simeon. The story appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Nazareth High School defeated Simeon 34-27 in the IHSA Class 7A quarterfinal playoff round. Nazareth will play for the state championship this weekend.

The lawsuit alleges that Richard Mercado, a football referee and father of one of the Nazareth players, stood along the Nazareth sideline, in his officiating uniform and attempted to influence the officials into making calls for his son’s team. Mercado was not assigned to officiate the game. The lawsuit further accuses Mercado of bragging about influencing the game on a social media account, saying “I did what was needed to make sure Naz won.” The post came from an account where Mercado’s name is misspelled.

The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction to prevent Mercado and the officiating crew from working any games. The IHSA has the power to suspend officiating licenses.

Update 11/21: The court declined to hold an emergency hearing and did not issue an injunction to block officials from working or to prevent Nazareth from advancing in the playoffs. The lawsuit is still pending.

This lawsuit will most likely go nowhere. Judges across the nation have thrown out lawsuits where losing teams want the courts to overturn game results when there was a legitimate rules error by the officials that directly cost a team the game. There was no rules misapplication alleged in this lawsuit, just litigation from a program that lost a close game and accuses the officials of the hard-to-prove allegation of bias and collusion.

But, the big question remains unanswered: Why in the world was Mercado on the sideline, allegedly rooting for his son’s team in his referee uniform?

There are message boards devoted to this drama, and it is hard to separate fact from half-fact from fiction. There is speculation that Mercado (and another official) came straight to the playoff game after officiating a peewee football game. Okay, that is plausible. But, cheering/booing/rooting for a team as a licensed official in an official’s uniform is, at best, unseemly. It turns a negative spotlight on the game. Fans, players and coaches of the other team wonder if they are getting a fair shake. 

In the age of cellphone cameras, social media and viral videos, officials must be above reproach. People notice everything and miss nothing. It is okay to cheer for offspring during a contest. But, official-parents need to be dressed as parents, not officials while cheering for their child.

Update: 11/21. According to WBBM-TV, the IHSA released the following statement:

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has declined to comment on the lawsuit related to the Nazareth Academy-Simeon Career Academy IHSA Playoff Football game, as we awaited the opportunity to exonerate the officials who worked the contest in open court. It now appears that no hearing will take place prior to this weekend’s IHSA Football State Championship games. The IHSA has fully investigated this matter and has uncovered no impropriety on the part of the officials assigned to work the game, as well as no influence over the referees by any individual or individuals in attendance. We will have no further comment on this matter for the time being.

The filing can be seen here:

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"