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
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.