A high school football player in Arizona could miss the school's first playoff game in 25 years after an official deemed a gesture to in praise of God as "excessive celebration."
Pedro Banda, 17, was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected from a game last week after he pointed his index finger to the sky following a touchdown.
The senior running back at Dysart High School in El Mirage, northwest of Phoenix, says he was praising God. The official and opposing coach believe he may have been taunting opponents.
Glendale coach Brian Bowman told the Arizona Republic the game was “chippy between players throughout” and felt that Banda was part of it.
“I know he got one (unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first quarter) when he got into it with one of our kids,” Bowman said. “They had given him a warning a couple of plays before his touchdown gave them a 28-0 lead with 4 minutes left. They gave him a warning and ejected one of our guys. It felt like taunting because it happened right after that.”
The unsportsmanlike penalty, coupled with the ejection for excessive celebration means Banda must serve a one game suspension. An appeal is being reviewed by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. The association's bylaw, however, states ejections are not subject to appeal.
Banda told Arizona TV station KNXV he will continue to do the gesture after scoring touchdowns.
“I just thank God for all the power he’s given me to play the game," Banda said. "And I just give the glory to Him.”