MEXICO, N.Y. – Mexico High School quarterback Dante Turo believes it’s God who gives him the strength and abilities to be successful on the football field.
The junior team leader often points skyward after big plays as a tribute to the Almighty, and his 73-yard run for a touchdown against Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Oct. 17 was no exception, Syracuse.com reports.
The solemn celebration, however, apparently didn’t sit well with one referee, who flagged the teen for unsportsmanlike conduct and assessed a 15-yard penalty that ultimately cost his team the game.
“I was just trying to give glory to God,” Turo told the news site. “I didn’t feel like I did anything wrong or anything that would merit … unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Turo appeared on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” with his father, Geno Turo, last Thursday to discuss the incident.
“Pointing up to God is kind of the international symbol of giving praise to Jesus, and that’s all I was trying to do,” Turo said.
“He wanted to do something at that moment to take credit away from himself and give glory to God,” Geno added. “God gives us the ability and the talent. As Christians, we want to be sure to give that back immediately.”
Mexico coach Tee Murabito told Fox News he thinks the ref made the wrong call. In the end, Mexico lost 33-31 in the regular season finale.
“I tried to explain to the referee that threw the flag and the head referee, but they just said, it’s taunting,” Murabito said, according to The Washington Times. “I told them he was praising God. How is that taunting?”
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The Mohawk Valley Chapter of Certified Football Officials refused to discuss the call with the media.
“It has been a long standing policy that the Mohawk Valley Chapter of Certified Football Officials does not address the media pertaining to penalty calls or any other actions made during a football game,” the group’s spokesman, Kevin Simons, wrote in an email to Syracuse.com.
The news site showed a clip of Turo’s touchdown to an athletic director, a longtime football coach and a football referee for feedback and none of them believed the referee made the correct call.
“There is no penalty there,” the unnamed referee, who has 15 years of experience, told the site. “Nothing occurred. It is not even remotely close to unsportsmanlike conduct. It is not, ‘delayed, excessive or prolonged,’ by any measurement and that is the standard for high school.”
Turo said he tried to discuss the play and his celebration with the official who made the call, and noted he praised God in the exact same way earlier in the game on a shorter touchdown.
“I kind of explained to him that I wasn’t trying to do anything arrogant or anything like that. I was just expressing my faith. He just said ‘Don’t do it again.’ Those were his only words,” Turo said. “Honestly, I don’t think it was right. I wasn’t trying to bring attention to myself.”
Mexico Academy & Central School District Superintendent Sean Bruno issued a statement after the Fox & Friends broadcast to set the record straight after an anchor mistakenly attributed comments from the Mohawk Valley Chapter of Certified Football Officials to the school district.
Bruno described Turo as an “excellent athlete and a dedicated student who can be counted on to do the right thing.”
“From my vantage point, I did not see the actions of our student athlete as an excessive celebration or taunting,” Bruno said. “However, I’m not a trained referee, and I was not under the pressure of officiating the game.”
Turo’s father said he’s proud of his son, regardless of the official’s call.
“He’s brave,” he said. “I brought him up to be fearless in the face of opposition.”
Turo told the media he doesn’t plan to change is in-game celebrations, and fully plans to praise God again the next time he crosses the goal line.
“Without a doubt, I will raise my finger,” he said.