Fenwick H.S. loses bid to overturn football state playoff loss in court

By Jonathan Bilyk | Nov 23, 2016

Fenwick High School has failed in its bid to overturn via lawsuit bad in-game officiating which cost its football team a chance to play for an Illinois state title, after a Cook County judge opted not to intervene in the matter.

On Wednesday morning, Cook County Judge Kathleen Kennedy dismissed the Oak Park Catholic high school’s request to wade into the matter, saying she did not believe Fenwick had demonstrated the Illinois High School Association – the organization that oversees high school athletics in Illinois – had inconsistently applied its rules in this case or violated the high school’s due process rights.

The case had drawn large interest, both within the Chicago region and elsewhere in Illinois and around the country, as many watched to see whether the court would step into the case and overturn results on the field.

The matter landed in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday, as Fenwick filed an emergency petition, alleging the IHSA had trampled the school’s contractual and due process rights by refusing to grant the school an appeal of the results of Fenwick’s Nov. 19 Class 7A state semifinal playoff loss to Plainfield North high school.

The game has been engulfed in controversy since the end of regulation time, when officials granted Plainfield North a final play after the game clock had expired, allowing Plainfield to kick a game-tying field goal. The decision came despite IHSA rules which dictated such an untimed down should not be allowed. The officials had said the down was needed because Fenwick had been flagged for intentional grounding on what should have been the game’s final play.

Following Judge Kennedy’s decision, Fenwick representatives said they were “disheartened” by the judge’s decision, but said they would not pursue any further legal action over the case.

“Our student athletes fought hard all season to win, and we did our best to continue their just fight,” said Fenwick Prinicipal Peter Groom. “We wish Plainfield North High School good luck as they compete against East St. Louis High School in Champaign on Saturday.

“We applaud the Plainfield North athletes and coaches for a well-played semifinal game, and we thank them for their continued sportsmanship and understanding during this difficult week for everyone involved.”

The IHSA said the judge’s decision was “not a victory” for either side.

“It is simply a resolution,” the IHSA said in a statement following the decision.

The IHSA said they “appreciate” the judge’s decision to stay out of the matter, and let the IHSA “self-govern within the rules set by our member schools.”

“Judge Kennedy recognized the historic precedent that would have resulted if she had overturned the outcome of the game based on an officiating error. This is the same pitfall our membership foresaw in originally approving the by-law, and that our Board of Directors recognized in their decision not to consider an appeal.”

Through its attorneys at the firm of Greenberg Traurig, in Chicago, Fenwick had argued the IHSA’s refusal to vacate the result on the field and award the game to Fenwick violates its contract with Fenwick and the state’s other high schools.

They argued the officials lacked the authority under the IHSA’s contracts to extend play on the field, which not only broke the IHSA’s rules, but also endangered the safety of the players, violating the IHSA’s code of conduct.

“Fenwick seeks a declaration to ‘fix’ a breach of contract by IHSA officials,” the lawsuit said. “By express written contract, all parties agree that the IHSA officials lacked authority under the Contract to force the teams to continue to play after the clock expired. Fenwick also seeks a temporary restraining order enforcing the Contract, declaring the game to have ended when the clock expired.

“To allow this unjust result to stand would fly in the face of everything the IHSA stands for in its administration of high school athletics – fairness, reliability, accountability and integrity.”

The case was assigned to Judge Kennedy a little over a week before her impending retirement. The Illinois Supreme Court has announced Kennedy, an Oak Park native who has served on the Cook County bench since 1996, will retire on Nov. 30, leaving it to the court to appoint her successor. That successor will not face voters for election until 2018.


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