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October 29, 2017

N.J. Coach: Ref was 'a coward' in high school football anthem protest

One of two officials who walked out of a New Jersey high school football game after some players knelt during the national anthem had every right to do what he did, Colts Neck coach Darian Barnes said.

Barnes just didn't like how referee Ernie Lunardelli went about it.

Barnes told this weekend that Lunardelli, who left the game in protest with his son Anthony Lunardelli, yelled at Monroe High School players after a few of them had knelt during the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner." Barnes also told the site that the younger Lunardelli had to pull his father off the field.

"To me, he’s a coward,” said Barnes, a Toms River North graduate who played seven seasons in the NFL and won a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “You don’t stand there and scream at a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds who are just expressing their rights the same as he was expressing his."

Lunardelli told that he only stopped on his way off the field when a Monroe coach yelled at him. He did not yell at any players, he said.

"One of the coaches said something and it kind of irked me and I just turned around and I was looking to see who it was," Lunardelli told "Nobody pulled me; I walked off."

Barnes also claimed that the head referee forewarned him before the game that some Monroe players might kneel, and that the crew had asked those players to stay in the locker room during the anthem to avoid any problems.

“What bothers me really is that you asked these kids to stay in the locker room during the national anthem so you don’t have to see these kids kneel,” Barnes said. “Why wouldn’t you just not go [and officiate the game]? I mean, not for nothing, it’s their high school, they go to school there."

Lunardelli and his son were reportedly replaced by two cadets who were already assigned to work on the chain crew for the game, which Colts Neck won, 18-13.

The referee said he had warned a Greater Middlesex Conference official that he would walk off the field if any players knelt for the anthem before his games.

Lunardelli is "not in favor of anyone disrespecting our country, our flag, the armed forces," he said.

The demonstrations started last year among NFL players who knelt to protest social inequality and police brutality.