The New Jersey Football Officials Association has accepted the resignation of the father and son officials who walked off the field in protest of players taking a knee during the national anthem, effectively bringing to a close an investigation into an incident that garnered national attention.
“We consider the matter officially closed given that they tendered their resignation,” said Scott Heiser, immediate past chairman of the Central Jersey Chapter of the NJFOA, which in November commenced an investigation into the actions of Ernie Lunardelli and his son, Anthony, who refused to officiate an Oct. 27 game between Colts Neck and Monroe during which four Monroe players joined a growing number of gridiron players at all levels nationwide who have protested racial inequality and police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem.
Heiser said the Lunardellis submitted their resignation through their attorney, Michael V. Dowgin, and that he “cannot imagine a scenario in which the Lunardellis ever officiate another high school football game in the state of New Jersey.”
The chances of Ernie and Anthony Lunardelli ever officiating elsewhere in the country may also be slim, considering that to officiate in another state they would need a “letter of good standing” from the NJFOA, documentation neither may be able to obtain.
Depending on the outcome of the terminated NJFOA investigation, the Lunardellis faced sanctions ranging from expulsion to a fine, none of which the association needs to impose now that it has accepted their resignation, Heiser said.
In a statement released through his attorney on Oct. 30, the day the NJFOA announced it was opening an investigation into the Lunardellis’ conduct, Ernie Lunardelli told MyCentralJersey.com that he and his son “would like to go back to officiating” and that “we do not believe we have done anything that should deny us that right.”
Ernie Lunardelli also told MyCentralJersey.com on Oct. 30 that he “without a doubt” planned to take legal action if the NJFOA barred him from officiating. Hours later, Dowgin told MyCentralJersey.com that the Lunardellis would never again comment publicly on the matter because both men wanted to “stay out of the media from now on.”
Heiser said the NJFOA took no disciplinary action against Thomas Paulikas, the assigner for the Greater Middlesex Conference, of which Monroe is a member, who scheduled the Lunardellis to work the school’s Oct. 27 game against Colts Neck.
Ernie Lunardelli said he told Paulikas in advance of that Oct. 27 game that he would walk off the field and refuse to officiate any contest in which players took a knee during the anthem. Paulikas said no such conversation ever took place and that he was unaware of Ernie Lunardelli’s disposition, which came after it had been widely reported that Monroe players first took a knee on Sept. 28 against New Brunswick.
“Tom will remain the GMC assigner for 2018 and going forward,” Heiser said. “As far as I know, that has not changed. He’s recently been in touch, so I know that he is still working in that capacity.”
Heiser said the NJFOA’s three chapters, including North and South, have made the Lunardellis’ conduct a point of emphasis among their officials in an attempt to ensure officials honor that officiating contracts under all circumstances.
“We’ve tried to tell our officials they are there to do a job under an officiating contract and they should honor it,” Heiser said. “To the greatest extent possible, they should leave their politics at home and remember they are there to do a job, there for the kids, there for the game. Even if they are personally offended, they have to fulfill their obligation to the kids, the schools and our officiating association.”