OHSAA responds to criticism for flagging 'gesture to Heaven'

CLEVELAND - A penalty given to two high school football players for a gesture they made during a game to honor a friend who had died has drawn criticism from fans.

Two Louisville High School players were penalized for pointing their fingers to the sky after one of them -- wide receiver Alex Schooley -- scored a touchdown with a little over a minute left in the game.

On Wednesday, the OHSAA responded to the criticism on Twitter.

"OHSAA is sorry to hear about a tragic death, but how could the officials have known gesture was honoring a friend?" the tweet read from the OHSAA Sports account.

Louisville head football coach John DeMarco says the team members learned only days before the Friday night game that one of their friends had been killed in an accident, and players were still emotional.

With 1:15 left in the final quarter, Schooley caught a touchdown pass that put Louisville ahead 26-24.

Schooley and teammate Gavin Lovejoy raised their arms after the touchdown, pointing a finger to the sky.

DeMarco said the gesture "wasn't taunting" but was celebrating a friend.

The two players were penalized with a foul for excessive celebration, WJW reported.

Keri Hollifield, whose son also plays for Louisville, said she thought the players made the gesture for their friend who died because they thought he "was there watching them."

The assistant commissioner for the Ohio High School Athletic Association said the penalty was appropriate under the rules. Henry Zaborniak said that any prolonged gesture by a player "that draws attention to himself is a foul."

Without knowing the context of the gesture, it could be considered offensive to the other team even though it was not intended that way, Zaborniak said.

Walsh Jesuit kicked a 29-yard field goal as time ran out and won the game, 27-26.

A grandparent of a Louisville player was among the fans who believe officials should have made an exception under the circumstances.

It was just "a simple gesture to heaven," Ann Miller said.

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