Judge rejects bid by Fenwick High to overturn outcome of controversial game

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

CHICAGO -- An Illinois high school football team that lost a playoff football game because officials made an incorrect call won't be in the state championship contest after a judge on Wednesday rejected its bid to overturn the outcome.

Judge Kathleen Kennedy rejected an unusual lawsuit from Chicago suburban Fenwick High School seeking to reverse the Plainfield North High School victory Saturday. Fenwick said it would not appeal the decision.

That sends Plainfield North High School to the Class A state title game Saturday against East St. Louis, but none of the parties involved was celebrating.

Fenwick led the playoff game 10-7 and had the ball on fourth down on its own 15-yard line with four seconds left. The Fenwick quarterback heaved the ball downfield and used up the time left on the clock. Officials ruled the play to be intentional grounding, a penalty that gave Plainfield North the ball and one more play, which it used to kick a field goal and tie the game before winning 18-17 in overtime.

The Illinois High School Association, which governs prep sports in the state, said the call was a mistake. The association apologized to Fenwick, but said there was no way for the school to appeal the outcome through the organization.

In her ruling Wednesday, Kennedy cited an association bylaw that says officials' decisions are final.

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 association attorney, argued in court.

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: "We reiterate our empathy for our friends from Fenwick High School and their supporters."

Illinois association spokesman Matt Troha said he is not aware of a previous case in which a school in Illinois tried to use the courts to change the outcome of a high school sports event.

In 2014, an Oklahoma judge declined a high school's request to have a football playoff game replayed after a referee's mistake cost the school's team a touchdown. The judge expressed concern about a "slippery slope" that could lead to future litigation over wins and losses.

The association said Wednesday that it will look for ways to try to prevent such problems in future, but it isn't yet clear what that will involve.

"There is no celebration and there are no winners in this circumstance. It is simply a resolution," the association said in an emailed statement. "The Fenwick High School community has been dealt a pair of devastating blows over the past few days, while Plainfield North had a historic moment shrouded in controversy."