New Jersey High School Referees Walk Out on Game After Players Kneel During Anthem

October 29, 2017 Updated: October 31, 2017

Two New Jersey football referees walked off the field and didn’t return when two players from Monroe High School took a knee during the pregame playing of the national anthem before their game against Colts Neck high school on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017.

Ernie Lunardelli and his son, Anthony, were identified as the refs who walked, but they had informed their assigner for the Greater Middlesex Conference that they would do so if players knelt.

“I’m not in favor of anyone disrespecting our country, our flag, the armed forces,” Lunardelli told NJ Advance Media over the weekend. “What they’re protesting has nothing to do with the national anthem and I’m against it, so I decided to protest them kneeling and that’s what I did.”

“Whoever is disrespecting that flag and the national anthem, that’s who I have a problem with. That’s my protest. I don’t care if it’s a baby, if it’s an 80-year-old man, anybody, I don’t care. Any race, color, I don’t care who it is. It’s not the way I was brought up and it [expletive] me off that people are doing that,” he said.

He went further.

“What hurts the most is these kids don’t even know why they’re kneeling. I just don’t understand why this is happening, especially at the high school level. If you’re not happy with being in America, go somewhere else. It’s that simple,” he said.

“They’ve got a right to protest and so do we,” Anthony Lunardelli told MyCentralJersey.com. “That (taking a knee during the anthem) is not how I was brought up, and that’s not how I was raised. I’m not criticizing their right. That’s just my viewpoint.”

The elder Lunardelli has been a referee for 18 years.

They’re not sure what’s going to happen next.

“I have a lawyer already set up because they’re not going to run me out of town,” Lunardelli told NJ Advance Media. “They’re going to try to blackball me. I know what’s going to happen.”

Monroe High School Athletics Director Greg Beyer told the website that he doesn’t know the names of the four Monroe players.

“We have to follow what is in the policy,” Beyer noted, “and pretty much the policy is if a kid doesn’t want to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, that’s his constitutional right, so we have to handle it (taking a knee during the playing of the anthem) the same exact way.”

NJSIAA Assistant Director Jack DuBois said Saturday that Monroe’s situation is unusual.

“I’ve been involved in high school athletics for 48 years and I’ve never seen or heard of an official leaving a game in any sport,” DuBois told NJ Advance. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment about what transpired without knowing exactly what happened and why. I can tell you this will be investigated by both the Central Jersey chapter and our office.”

The act of kneeling started when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee for the anthem last year, and it has spread across most levels of sports. Taking a knee is meant to draw attention to so-called racial inequality and police brutality.