High school refs walk out of football game after players stage national anthem protest

Much has been made about the protests around the NFL, but where Colin Kaepernick's movement has really gained a lot of traction has been in lower levels -- specifically high school football. Dating back to the 2016 season when the protests began, high school teams and players around the country have been taking a knee or otherwise protesting during the national anthem, to a mixed bag of responses.

Those responses came to a head Friday night in New Jersey when Ernie and Anthony Lunardelli -- a father and son working a high school game as officials -- left the field when they noticed some Monroe High players in a Monroe vs. Colts Neck High taking a knee on the sideline.

Ernie Lunardelli offered an explanation for leaving after the game. 

"Anybody that disrespects the flag, in my eyes, it's not right," the 18-year official said. "What they are doing with this kneeling and everything, they have the right do to that, but the national anthem has nothing to do with them kneeling. The flag has got nothing to do with why they are protesting. If they want to protest, let them protest, but don't disrespect our country, the flag and the armed forces."

Anthony Lunardelli shares a similar stance.

"They've got a right to protest and so do we," he said. "[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." 

In total, four Monroe players were kneeling on the sidelines during the anthem. The Lunardellis appeared to have words with the players as they left the field. Colts Neck coach Darian Barnes, a former NFL player himself, isn't buying the reasoning behind the Lunardellis walking off. 

"You don't know why they're kneeling and that's the problem," he said. "The same people who are so adamant, like this guy, who is so adamant about expressing how upset and frustrated he is by it, is the same guy that doesn't want to see why the kid is kneeling in the first place."

Greg Beyer, the athletic director at Monroe, doesn't seem to know or care about the names of the four players protesting.

"We have to follow what is in the policy," Beyer said, "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 [kneeling during the anthem] the same exact way."

Ernie Lunardelli said that he told both teams he would leave the field if he saw protests about 75 minutes before gametime. The game was still played (Colts Neck won, 18-13) with a pair of cadets that were working the chains. Two parents joined the chain gang for the game. Anthony Lunardelli is saying that the fallout has been swift from his protest. 

"They are trying to get them to not give us any more games, basically saying we put the players' safety in danger, but we didn't," he said. "They obviously had enough officials to do the game. I'm not really worried about (being sanctioned). If I don't ref again, it won't be the end of the world."

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