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Bill Jackson, Ritter High football player

Cardinal Ritter's Bill Jackson plays against Nazareth Academy on Aug. 31, wearing the No. 24 jersey. His arm tattoos are what revealed the truth.

Mike Mantucca, Special to STLhighschoolsports.com

Cheating is cheating is cheating. Try as Cardinal Ritter high school football players and their coach might to get around this simple truth, the tattoos don’t lie. Running back Bill Jackson was caught by David Kvidahl of STLhighschoolsports.com in what appears to be a flagrant violation of a ruling that he was ineligible to play in the opening week of the 2019 season. The way he broke the rules required lots of help from adults who knew better.

Jackson was suspended as punishment for an infraction that caused him to be ejected in the fourth quarter of the Class 3 state championship game last year. His ineligibility meant he could not play in Cardinal Ritter’s season opener Aug. 31 against Nazareth of Illinois. The Cardinal Ritter Lions aren’t just the top-ranked small-school team in the region or state but the entire nation. Every win helps them keep that status, and every win that involved Jackson in the lineup is now in serious jeopardy — deservedly so.

Here’s how the apparent rules violation was exposed: A player wearing the No. 24 jersey in the opening 2019 game was listed in the official roster as freshman Marvin Burks. Photos showed him playing in the opening-week game. In theory, Jackson, who wears the No. 4 jersey, didn’t play. He did suit up for the following week’s game.

But Kvidahl took a closer look at photos from the games, which showed identical tattoos on the right bicep and forearm of the players wearing the two jerseys. Video posted on the Instagram account of Cardinal Ritter coach Brandon Gregory showed the player in the No. 24 jersey leading the Lions during pregame routines ahead of the game against Nazareth — a strange role for a “freshman” player. The same “freshman” rushed for 109 yards, and his 56-yard touchdown helped the team win 32-21 against Nazareth, the defending Illinois Class 7A champion.

What amazing work by this talented “freshman”!

Both Jackson and Gregory did their part to advance the notion that Jackson sat out during the first week, offering quotes to the Post-Dispatch lamenting how hard it was to accept that ineligibility ruling. Gregory went so far as to assert about the week-one roster change, “Marvin Burks, we added him last minute.”

Jackson could not have donned the No. 24 jersey and arranged the identity switch with “Burks” unless adults, including Gregory, had played an active role.

According to state high school athletic association rules, games are automatically forfeited if an ineligible player plays anyway. And if Jackson never served his required suspension, forfeits should be imposed for every subsequent game in which he played.

But forfeits aren’t good enough. Adults had to have participated knowingly to bring this scam about, and those adults have no business continuing in a role leading young athletes if their attitude is: Win at all costs, even if you have to cheat.