We’ve got controversy in the Illinois High School Association Class 7A football playoffs, folks. Two controversies, in fact. One is a fairly mundane case of disorganization in high school football. The other involves costuming and bad parenting and a lawsuit, and a father boasting on social media about how he may have cheated to help his son’s football team win a game.
Back on November 11, 8th-seed Nazareth Catholic Academy upset undefeated top-seed Simeon Career Academy, storming back from a 14–0 deficit to win by a touchdown, 34–27. The end of the game was a little, hmm, awkward—Simeon had the ball with the clock running in the final seconds, but the referees appeared to screw up the spotting of the football, and in the confusion the clock ran down to zero:
That’s not a bad lil’ controversy, but it doesn’t quite rise to lawsuit levels of dysfunction. For that, the game needed the actions of one Richard Mercado, an IHSA referee and the father of a Nazareth player. Mercado, who was not working the game, apparently showed up in his referee togs anyway, evidently so that he could interact with and influence the game’s officials. According to a lawsuit filed by a Simeon alumni group and a group of Simeon’s boosters (among others parties), Mercado’s behavior and those of the game officials who allowed it “constituted a substantial and material breach of contract” and effectively made Nazareth’s victory illegitimate. The lawsuit says Mercado “conferenced” with the game’s referees before the opening kickoff, then spent the game roaming the Nazareth sideline, repeatedly interacting with game officials, and often in restricted areas where team personnel are prohibited.
Michael Johnson, a member of the booster club, said he attended the Nov. 10 game and it was “obvious that something was happening,” but it wasn’t until after the game that they started to piece together what happened.
The plaintiffs make the case in a section of the lawsuit titled “The Breach” that the game was marred by “a number of questionable calls,” presumably benefiting Nazareth. It seems obvious that Mercado’s outfit was designed to gain him a level of access and influence not normally granted to just some parent. What other reason would he have to wear it? The Simeon supporters behind the lawsuit are alleging that Mercado’s ploy worked. Like a true heel, Mercado was reportedly on Facebook following the game, saying basically the same thing:
The plaintiffs are asking the judge to prevent IHSA from declaring a winner of the game in question, and to force IHSA to essentially fire Mercado as a referee. You can view the lawsuit below.