High School Footballers Penalized For Honoring Deceased Friend. Really.
On August 22, Dom Wilgus, a high school junior-to-be from Ohio, died in a car accident. Among the many devastated at such a young life getting taken away were two football-playing friends of Wilgus’ at Louisville (Oh.) High. One of them, Alex Schooley, scored a late touchdown in Louisville’s season opener on Friday, putting the team ahead 26-24. Schooley and teammate Gavin Lovejoy celebrated the score by pointing at the sky in honor of their deceased friend, a classy, poignant gesture…that earned them an excessive celebration penalty. The penalty helped give Louisville’s opponent, Walsh Jesuit, good field position. They used that field position to eventually kick the game-winning field goal. If this sounds too bad to be true, sadly, here’s video:
OK. We know the referees have a job to do. We know they didn’t realize Schooley and Lovejoy had just lost a friend. But we also know, thanks to the video above, that what the players did was nothing egregious. They were among a crowd of celebrating teammates, with no opponents, as best we can tell, anywhere near them. We’re a little surprised the referees even took note of it, honestly.
And the response to the call won’t make the officials’ side of things look any less heartless (even if it’s undeservedly so):
The assistant commissioner for the Ohio High School Athletic Association said the penalty was appropriate under the rules, WJW reported. Henry Zaborniak said that any prolonged gesture by a player “that draws attention to himself is a foul.”
It didn’t look to us like Schooley and Lovejoy were trying to draw any attention to themselves, but apparently the referees saw it differently. And for what it’s worth, Louisville’s athletic director, Rich Venuto, stands by the official:
“He had no idea and nor would he have and I don’t think the officials can bring in that type of emotion to what they call on the field…His interpretation was that we called attention to ourselves after the touchdown was scored and during the celebration we did draw attention to ourselves and that is against the rules.
According to the National Federation of High Schools, you are not allowed to draw attention to yourself and, in fact, [the referee] even told me that he had asked our players not to do so, but then we did that again and that’s when he threw the flag.”
Maybe that last part changes things a little bit…maybe. And it’s a little jarring, the degree to which Venuto stood up for the referee. Saying he had no idea and was doing his job is all well and good, but Venuto offered defense after defense after defense. The way this situation played out was all wrong. These high school kids lost their good friend, and their celebration was, considering the emotions of the moment, pretty low-key. And the penalty helped them lose the game at the last second. No matter how little harm was intended, for those kids trying to pay tribute, this is messed up.