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Teen Football Player Costs Team Game After Penalized for Honoring Dead Friend

It was a "simple gesture to heaven..."

The Ohio High School Athletic Association and one of its referees has come under fire for a recent decision to penalize Louisville High School after its football team's receiver paid tribute to a deceased friend in last Friday's season opener. It's a move, and a penalty, that cost the team the game.

After scoring what would have been the game's winning touchdown -- putting the team up 26-24 -- Alex Schooley, along with his teammate Gavin Lovejoy, pointed their fingers toward the sky in a commemorative gesture for their friend, Dom Wilgus, 16, who was killed in a car accident the week earlier. It so happened Schooley had also been pallbearer at Wilgus' funeral that very morning.

The referee, however, considered the gesture a display of excessive celebration and penalized Louisville, giving the opposing team, Walsh Jesuit, excellent field position. Walsh Jesuit ended up scoring a 29-yard field goal to seal the win.

Below is clip featuring the Louisville players' gesture:

While parents and members of the community were outraged over the referee's decision, the athletic director for Louisville High School, Rich Venuto, defended the official, saying he was simply doing his job and had no way of knowing the reason behind the Louisville players' gesture.

"He had no idea and nor would he have and I don't think the officials can bring in that type of emotion to what they call on the field," Venuto told Fox 8 Cleveland on Tuesday.

"They have to call the game as they see it, that's what their charge is according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and that's what we would want them to do as administrators and athletic administrators."

Venuto reportedly holds no ill will against the referee who issued the penalty, stating the official has received a great deal of criticism for the call.

"His interpretation was that we called attention to ourselves after the touchdown was scored and during the celebration we did draw attention to ourselves and that is against the rules," Venuto said.

Assistant Ohio High School Athletic Association Commissioner Henry Zaborniac, who oversees all of the referees in the state, told Fox 8 Monday that the rules prohibit "any excessive or prolonged act by which a player attempts to focus attention upon himself."

"According to the National Federation of High Schools, you are not allowed to draw attention to yourself and, in fact, [the referee] even told me that he had asked our players not to do so, but then we did that again and that's when he threw the flag," Venuto told Fox 8.

"The gentleman who made the call is a very well known and respected official, someone we certainly hope has another one of our games this year because he has a great reputation," added Venuto.

"The crew chief engaged me in conversation after the game and told me that this year the celebratory rule as far as drawing attention to yourself is a point of emphasis with the Ohio High School Athletic Association and at the rules interpretation meeting that the coaches and officials have to attend that was one of the things that was brought out, a very strong point so officials do not allow that to happen, so officials are looking out for that and rightfully so."

Louisville supporters, meanwhile, say Schooley and Lovejoy were merely making a "simple gesture to heaven" that in no way could have been construed as anything other than dignified.

While Venuto claims to understand why fans are upset with referee's decision, he credits Walsh Jesuit for a game well played and says the team and its supporters need to move on.

"I think that people's emotions have spilled over and certainly I think unfairly for that official and the crew, and we don't feel that way towards the official or the crew at all. You know what, we have benefited from calls in the past. This one we didn't."

Fox 8 Cleveland provides the report:

Do you believe Venuto's sentiment displays appropriate sportsmanship, or is he acquiescing, perhaps too willingly, to an unfair call?

One last thing…
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