A Cook County Circuit Court has denied Fenwick High School’s request for it to intervene in the controversy swirling around its Illinois Class 7A football semifinal loss to Plainfield North Saturday.
Fenwick lost the game and its chance to face the East St. Louis Flyers for a state title because of the referees’ misinterpretation of rules sent the game to overtime, which eventually led to a victory for Plainfield North.
In a statement released two hours after the game’s conclussion, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson acknowledged the error and that Fenwick should have been the winner, but evoked an IHSA bylaw which disallows any attempt by member schools to protest an officials on-field ruling.
Fenwick, a private college prepatory high school in Oak Park, filed a lawsuit Monday “seeking declaratory, injunctive and other relief against IHSA.” The 41-page lawsuit sought "a declaration to 'fix' a breach of contract” by IHSA officials.
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The association argued that if Fenwick prevailed it could lead to a flood of lawsuits over incorrect decisions by officials.
"I wish there was a way that Fenwick could participate in the game, but there's not. Sometimes the law is not fair," David Bressler, an IHSA attorney, argued in court.
Cook County Judge Kathleen Kennedy ruled against the injunction. Plainfield North will meet East St. Louis for the state championship on the campus of University of Illinois Saturday. Kick off at Memorial Stadium is at 4 p.m.
Fenwick Principal Peter Groom said in a statement: "We applaud the Plainfield North athletes and coaches for a well-played semi-final game, and we thank them for their continued sportsmanship and understanding."
Plainfield North spokesman Tom Hernandez praised the decision but, in a printed statement, stressed that "We reiterate our empathy for our friends from Fenwick High School and their supporters.
The IHSA also released a statement shortly after receiving the ruling. It suggested that the board of directors would review bylaws, but thanked the court for not intervening in the IHSA’s right to self governance.
“Today’s decision by the Honorable Kathleen G. Kennedy in the Circuit Court of Chicago to uphold the result of the IHSA Class 7A Semifinal Football game is not a victory,” the statement reads. “There is no celebration and there are no winners in this circumstance. It is simply a resolution.”
Fenwick was leading Plainfield North 10-7 late in the fourth quarter. As time expired, Fenwick quarterback Jacob Keller threw a fourth-and-15 pass down field to wind down the remainder of the game clock.
But game officials flagged Keller for intentional grounding and allowed Plainfield North an extra play from the spot of the penalty, which the Tigers converted to a game-tying field goal.
Plainfield North went on to win the game in overtime, 18-17.
By rule, however, Plainfield North never should have been allowed a final play. Anderson’s statement acknowledged as much.
“The game should have concluded on the final play of regulation and the untimed down should not have been awarded,” he wrote.
Citing IHSA bylaw 6.033, which says “the decisions of game officials shall be final; protests against the decision of a game official shall not be reviewed by the Board of Directors,” Anderson a protest would not be allowed, prompting Fenwick’s lawsuit.
East St. Louis head football coach Darren Sunkett said Wednesday afternoon the Flyers have been preparing all along to face Plainfield North.
"We didn't even enlighten our kids about the situation,” he said. “If we had to change gears in the middle of the week, that's what we would have done."
East St. Louis Athleteic Director Leonard Manley said the officials’ ruling and resulting lawsuit added unfortunate drama to what should be an exciting time for the participating schools and their communities.
"We're preparing for anybody they line up against us, but we feel bad for the kids on both teams,” he said. “It would have been painful for the kids at Plainfield North to lose the game in a courtroom, but at the same time it's painful for the kids at Fenwick because they won that game within the rules."
Information for this report came from the Associated Press, Chicago Tribune and Dean Criddle and Todd Eschman of the BND.