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Lawsuit Accuses Nazareth Parent Of Dressing As Ref, But IHSA Rules Team Can Play In 7-A Championship Game On Saturday

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Was a high school football team robbed of a victory? That's what some Simeon Career Academy parents alleged in a lawsuit filed against the Illinois High School Association.

According to the lawsuit, the father of a Nazareth Academy player was on the sidelines, dressed as a referee, and calling the shots when Nazareth defeated Simeon 34-27 in the Class 7A quarterfinal last week.

The Illinois High School Association on Tuesday, however, ruled there was no interference, granting Nazareth permission to play in the 7-A Championship game on Saturday.

The lawsuit, which is still pending, was triggered by a couple of controversial calls in that state playoff game on Nov. 10, as Richard Mercado stood on the sidelines in a referee uniform, even though he wasn't part of the officiating crew.

Mercardo said he didn't do anything wrong, but Simeon parents called his actions "blatant cheating."

"For my son and his teammates, it's wrenching to see them go through what they're going through," said Simeon parent Tamarah Lester.

According to the lawsuit, Mercado was involved in controversial calls on the field, including a Simeon touchdown that was called back, as Mercado stood next to the official referee outside of the restricted box.

Mercado, whose son plays for Nazareth, was wearing his referee uniform, but was not officiating that day. He insisted he did not influence any calls on the field.

"I was just there as a parent. I wasn't there refereeing. I wasn't saying anything to anybody. I didn't do anything," he said.

Mercado acknowledged parents typically are not allowed on the sidelines, but in picture after picture Mercado is seen standing where he's not supposed to be.

However, the lawsuit points to Facebook comments in which Mercado apparently admitted to helping the officials make calls.

"I didn't make one bad call. I made sure the best team won," Mercado stated in one comment.

"Facebook is Facebook, and probably things that I should not have said," Mercado said.

Lester said she "was blown away" by what Mercado did.

"He acknowledged something that we think has been going on," she said.

Lester and other parents and alumni at Simeon filed a lawsuit claiming Mercado's presences violated IHSA rules, because he was "in his full referee uniform," "stood on Nazareth's sidelines," and "communicated with the referees working the game."

The suit calls for Mercado and the officials who worked that game to be banned from IHSA, and for Nazareth to be stripped of its win. The suit isn't asking for Simeon to be declared the winner, but for no winner to be declared.

"The team, unfortunately, should not have the honor of that win," Lester said. "I'm sorry for those players. It's not those children's fault, but everyone in life has to be accountable for their actions."

In a statement, IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said: "The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has declined to comment on the lawsuit related to the Nazareth Academy-Simeon Career Academy IHSA Playoff Football game, as we awaited the opportunity to exonerate the officials who worked the contest in open court. It now appears that no hearing will take place prior to this weekend's IHSA Football State Championship games. The IHSA has fully investigated this matter and has uncovered no impropriety on the part of the officials assigned to work the game, as well as no influence over the referees by any individual or individuals in attendance. We will have no further comment on this matter for the time being."

Nazareth Academy did not respond to requests for comment.

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