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Celebration penalty costs title

BOSTON -- A Massachusetts high school lost a state championship game because a player raised his arm in triumph as he ran for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown, and Boston mayor Thomas Menino doesn't like it.

The penalty for the gesture by Cathedral High School quarterback Matthew Owens in Saturday's Division 4A Super Bowl led to the losing team wondering if the referee's decision could be challenged. The state association said Wednesday that it could not, and that there is no provision in MIAA rules to overturn an official's call after a game has been concluded.

"I think sometimes these rules are written by frustrated athletes," Menino said from Cathedral, according to Wednesday's Boston Herald. "They never participated in a sport, and they don't know what it is to be excited. You play in a football game, you run for a touchdown, and you do something special."

Blue Hills Regional Technical School athletic director Ed Catabia told The Boston Globe on Sunday that the referee made "a great call, the right call."

"We try and play by the rules, and the rule is 'no celebrating,' " he said.

The referee was enforcing a sportsmanship rule that prohibits players from celebratory or taunting behavior while scoring a touchdown.

The 18-year-old senior was racing for a score as time wound down in the game against Blue Hills. Video shows Owens briefly raising his left arm and then lowering it as he approaches the end zone. The penalty nullified the touchdown, and Cathedral lost the game 16-14.

And the Massachusetts InterScholastic Athletic Association said the call will not be overturned.

"There is no provision in MIAA rules (or rules for any other sport at any other level) to overturn an official's call after a game has been concluded," the organization said in a statement Wednesday. "Once the final whistle is sounded the game is over."

Cathedral's athletic director James Lynch said the quarterback's instinctive move to raise his hand for a few strides as he approached the end zone could not be reasonably interpreted as excessive celebration, taunting or malicious.

"I just give people the analogy: Imagine a basketball player making a clutch 3-pointer right at the end of the game, and he turns around and he just kind of shakes his fist in the air kind of thing," Lynch told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "And it was simply just that and it was nothing else. ... I don't think it was anything further than just excitement on the player's behalf."

Lynch added: "I think it was a wrong interpretation of the rule and I think that our players handled themselves in a sportsmanship manner ... for respecting the other team when they received the trophy in the award ceremony and how they handled themselves and how they composed themselves during the game."

Menino also praised the team for how they handled the situation and said he will treat them all to lunch. But he still doesn't understand how it happened.

"This kid was 18 years old, his birthday, running for the Super Bowl championship," Menino said, according to the Herald. "You wouldn't be a human being if you didn't show some expression."

Menino said that he thinks the MIAA should review the rule, though he added that he has no say.

"I'm not interested in getting into a back-and-forth with the mayor," MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel said, according to the Herald. "He may be right (about the rule being written by people who have never played the game) for all I know, but I doubt it."

He said touchdown celebrations were "getting out of hand" before the rule was adopted.

"We're very concerned about high school students adopting things they see in the professional leagues," he added.

Lynch said about a dozen football players are also on the basketball team and they reported for basketball tryouts and "just kind of moved past it. They understand that it was definitely a controversial call and something that should be looked into."

The MIAA statement Wednesday said a lesson could be learned from the situation.

"Losing a game or having an official's call go against you or your team are all part of sports. Just like athletes and coaches, officials try hard to do the best job possible. Athletes must learn to put these things behind them and move forward. During their lifetime they will experience similar situations where they feel 'wronged' by a superior or authority figure and they must learn to deal with that situation."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.