Refs who walked off over Monroe protest during anthem are barred for rest of year
TRENTON — The two referees who walked off the field on Friday night after two Monroe (Middlesex County) players took a knee during the national anthem will not work a game for the rest of the season.
Scott Heiser, chairman of the Central Jersey chapter of the New Jersey Football Officials Association, told New Jersey 101.5 the Greater Middlesex Conference followed his recommendation given the controversy created by the actions of Ernie Lunardelli, 54, and his 27-year-old son Anthony.
"I think it's in everyone's best interest, including theirs, that they be removed from the remaining games pending the outcome of the board of review meeting we will convene later this week," Heiser said.
The chapter's board of review will meet on Wednesday or Thursday to establish the facts of what happened Friday night and determine if the referees' actions went agains the association's regulations and bylaws, and what punishment or sanctions would be appropriate.
"We have eveything on the table in that regard from fines to expulsion," Heiser said.
Heiser said he is most troubled by reports that their action was not spontaneous "but rather something that was signaled and pre-planned, in which others were made aware."
Several players with Monroe High School have been kneeling all season. Athletic director Greg Beyer has allowed the protests to continue, and compared it to not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance in class.
GMC scheduler Thomas Paulikas told NJ.com he disputed reports that Ernie Lunardelli told him or any other official he would leave the field if any player took a knee. He called the 30-year veteran a good official, and said he was surprised at his action. Heiser said he was unaware of any problems with Ernie Lunardelli's officiating.
"As far as I am aware their record as officials is fine," Heiser said.
Steven Timko, executive director of the NJSIAA, said it will be up to the officials association to settle any disputes involving officials — but the NJSIAA would hear any appeal. Timko declined to comment on the specifics of the case, citing "due process for all involved."
Ernie Lunardelli told MyCentrralJersey.com that "without a doubt" he will take legal action that could include seeking reinstatement to this season's schedule. He said he believes he is being discriminated against and said no one from the Greater Middlesex Conference had contacted him about the schedule.
The Lunardellis also released a statement to MyCentralJersey saying they "love our country, love football, and, in particular, we love youth football.
"We are not racists and never intended to make any statement, by our words, or actions, against anyone based on their race, color or creed. Our point was that we do not understand why these young players' protest needed to be taken during the national anthem," they said. "We did not see the connections and we elected to then exercise our right to protest."
The father and son also said in the statement that they "do not hate any young players and we did not hate the young players that kneeled during the national anthem last Friday night." They added that they do "strongly disagree with when they kneeled."
"We may have asked for it, but now would like to go back to being anonymous," they said. "We would also like to go back to officiating games. We do not believe we have done anything that should deny us that right."
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com