High school sports and political beliefs should never be intermixed. They have to be separate. There’s no room for one with the other.
But that’s what took place recently at the Monroe-Colts Neck football game, when a few members of the Monroe team, taking the lead of their National Football League gridiron brethren, decided to take a knee during the National Anthem, forcing two officials slated to work the game to walk off in protest.
Ernie Lunardelli and his son, Anthony, decided that they didn’t want to work the game after the Monroe team protested, so they walked off soon after and decided they were not going to work the game.
Ernie Lunardelli was reached by NJ Advance Media after the incident and gave his reasons for doing what he did.
“I’m not in favor of anyone disrespecting our country, our flag, the armed forces,” Ernie Lunardelli told NJ Advance Media. “What they’re protesting has nothing to do with the national anthem and I’m against it, so I decided to protest for them kneeling and that’s what I did.”
Lunardelli continued with his words and reasons for his protest.
“Whoever is disrespecting that flag and the national anthem, that’s who I have a problem with,” Lunardelli said. “That’s my protest. I don’t care if it’s a baby, if it’s an 80-year-old man, anybody. I don’t care. Any race, color, I don’t care who it is. It’s not the way I was brought up and it pisses me off that people are doing that.”
But the sickening part took place even before the game. Apparently, the elder Lunardelli was yelling at the Monroe players before the game and had to be physically restrained from going after the players by other officials.
And get this: The elder Lunardelli apparently informed officials from the Greater Middlesex Conference that he was indeed going to walk away from officiating if such a protest took place. He gave the GMC officials warning of his protest _ and lived up to it.
And it gets better: Both Lunardellis posted comments on social media that were derogatory toward race and religion.
Well, I personally don’t care what our beloved father and son do on their own free time. They can protest the NFL actions or high school actions all they want away from the high school gridiron. But once they put on that black and white striped shirt, they have a job to do as an official. How can players and coaches actually take them seriously if they act in such an antagonizing fashion before kickoff?
There’s no room for such behavior in high school sports. Adults have to set the tone for the adolescents. Even when the teenagers are making a political statement of their own, there’s no room for the so-called adults to react to it, especially when they are there to do a job as football officials.
And then, to make matters worse, this father-and-son combo is bragging about their exploits before the incident takes place? And they’re dishing racial and religious epitaphs on social media to boot?
The NJSIAA did the right thing by informing these clowns that they have relinquished their rights to serve as football officials for the rest of their lives. Good riddance.
Mind you, I’m not fond of the NFL players disrespecting the flag and our servicemen by kneeling and sitting for the National Anthem. If you can’t stand for two minutes and 10 seconds, then you don’t deserve the right to play a little boys’ game for a whole lot of spending cash. If the NFL players want to make a statement, do so on your own time at the venue of your choice, not one where people are spending hundreds of dollars to see you play a little boys’ game.
That being said, I find it ludicrous for high school kids to be kneeling and sitting. What kind of lesson are they being taught by kneeling?
Shame on the powers-that-be in the Verona Board of Education for electing to oust long-time head football coach Lou Racioppe last week.
The Verona BOE decided that Racioppe, the head coach at Verona for the last 20 years, was worthy of losing his job in the middle of a season for apparently raising his voice and barking expletives at some of his players.
How ridiculous is that? Football coaches have been yelling at kids and using profane language since the turn of the century. Amos Alonzo Stagg probably berated his players. Knute Rockne more than likely cursed once or twice.
But Verona decided to can a good man and an even better football coach like Racioppe in the middle of the season. They couldn’t wait until the season was over? They had to disgrace him and humiliate him now?
What about all the good Racioppe did during his career, like winning four state sectional championships and producing superstar players like Anthony Fasano and Carlo Calabrese? Does all that simply get forgotten?
Apparently so, because if the Verona BOE did some revisionist history and realized that Racioppe did more good for Verona than could possibly be ever bad, then they would realize they made a colossal mistake.
If a move like this was made during the offseason, it still wouldn’t make much sense, but it would make more sense than showing the man the unceremonious door In the middle of the season.
The Verona BOE has not publicly stated the reasons for Racioppe’s dismissal, but it was rumored that some parents and members of the BOE was not happy with his behavior toward his players.
The school board conducted an investigation into Racioppe’s behavior three weeks ago and determined after interviewing players, coaches and parents that Racioppe was to be placed on administrative leave.
Then the BOE determined last week that Racioppe should be terminated immediately.
Now, if Racioppe did something criminal, like lay his hands on a player, then he deserved to be fired. But for yelling at kids and cursing?
"If this is the case for his termination, then every coach in the state of New Jersey and around the country shouldn't be able to coach," one parent said. “He did nothing immoral, it's just really a shame and a shame on the administration for doing this."
Bingo. Shame on the administration.
Prayers go out to retired New Providence football coach Frank Bottone, who fell ill earlier this week.
Bottone is one of the rare members of the 300-win club in New Jersey, but more importantly, Bottone is one of the pure gentlemen in the sport. He is always an absolute joy to run into at different events and was a pleasure to cover during my early days at the Daily Record and then later the Elizabeth Daily Journal and Star-Ledger.
I adore Frank Bottone and I urge you to hit the knees and ask God to love him as much as the entire football community certainly does.