High School Sports

Tattoo-Gate: prominent prep football power ends season over illegal player investigation

A powerhouse high school program in St. Louis has ended its season after using an illegal player.

For its season opener in August, coaches at Cardinal Ritter allowed a junior running back to play in a different number, a number that was assigned to a freshman. The junior running back, who has tattoos on his arms, was supposed to serve a suspension after being ejected in the 2018 Class 3 state championship game. Instead, he ran for more than 100 yards in a win over a Missouri 7A defending state champion.

According to National Federation of State High School Association guidelines, that penalty for ejection would carry over to the next game for an ejected player, even if it meant extending into the following season.

An investigation by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, apparently that began by noticing the freshman football player did not have the same arm tattoos, uncovered the violation.

The school’s administration decided on its own to shut down the football team for the rest of the 2019 season and the entire coaching staff was fired, including a head coach who was 28-8 in three seasons with a state championship appearance in 2018.

The school will forfeit its first seven games this season and its final two, including a game scheduled Friday.

Additionally, the school’s athletics director retired. He was a three-time state championship basketball coach who was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Hall of fame in 2007.

Langston Wertz Jr. is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked at the Observer since 1988. He’s covered everything from Final Fours and NFL to video games and Britney Spears. Wertz -- a West Charlotte High and UNC grad -- is the rare person who can answer “Charlotte,” when you ask, “What city are you from.”
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