Did a man dress up as a referee to help his son’s high school football team win in the playoffs?
That’s the bizarre accusation made in a new lawsuit filed in Illinois’ Cook County Circuit Court earlier this month.
The lawsuit comes from alumni and parents of students at the Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, Illinois, after the team lost 34-27 against Nazareth Academy in the Class7A quarterfinal on November 10, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.
Simeon Career Academy was undefeated and the top seed in the playoffs, according to Deadspin, but eighth-seeded Nazareth Academy found a way to come back from being down 14-0 to notch the upset.
The Illinois High School Association, which hires referees to officiate games, is named as the defendant in the lawsuit.
Richard Mercado, whose son plays on the football team at Nazareth Academy, is accused in the lawsuit of dressing up as a referee to help sway the outcome of the high-stakes game. Mercado is a referee employed by the Illinois High School Association but wasn’t supposed to work the playoff game.
Mercado stood on the Nazareth sideline for much of the game in his “full uniform” and talked to working referees, including before the game when the officials first grouped up, according to the lawsuit. The legal complaint says “a number of questionable calls were made during the game by its officiating crew.”
It points to one specific example: Mercado was “standing right next to the referee” when a touchdown for Simeon Career Academy was reversed, the lawsuit alleges. That touchdown, plus an extra point, would theoretically tie the two teams at 34 points each.
Sam Knox, the assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association, expressed confusion over why a parent was in a restricted area of the sideline while dressed up as a referee, according to the lawsuit.
“You’re right,” he told parents, according to the lawsuit. “A Nazareth father was on the sideline dressed as an official. I wish I had a good reason why that happened. It shouldn’t have happened.”
Now, the Nazareth Academy team is slated to play in the championship game against St. Charles North High School this Saturday, after winning in the semifinals, according to The Chicago Tribune. But the lawsuit asks for Nazareth Academy’s win against Simeon Career Academy to be nullified — and for Mercado to never officiate another game as an employee with the Illinois High School Association.
“The team, unfortunately, should not have the honor of that win,” Tamarah Lester, whose son played for Simeon Career Academy, told CBS Chicago. “I’m sorry for those players. It’s not those children’s fault, but everyone in life has to be accountable for their actions.”
Mercado, however, says he didn’t do anything wrong, according to CBS Chicago.
“I was just there as a parent,” he said, according to the outlet. “I wasn’t there refereeing. I wasn’t saying anything to anybody. I didn’t do anything.”
The lawsuit, however, pointed to some comments Mercado allegedly made on Facebook as proof of his interference.
“I didn’t make one bad call,” he wrote on Facebook, according to a screenshot included in the lawsuit. “I made sure the best team won.”
Mercado put two winking and two smirking emojis next to that comment. He also added: “I did what was needed to make sure Naz won,” according to the lawsuit.
When asked about the comments, Mercado said “Facebook is Facebook, and probably things that I should not have said,” according to CBS Chicago.
While some are pushing for the loss to be reversed, Simeon Career Academy quarterback Alante Brown isn’t one of them.
“I have mixed emotions,” Brown said, according to The Chicago Sun-Times. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to the Nazareth team. I want them to finish the season and get a chance to win the state championship. They beat us and they deserve it.”