Air Force One vet turned ref walks out after athlete kneels, is suspended for 18 months

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Jim Saddler is sorry. That’s the first thing he wants you to know. Not sorry for being angry — he’s still pretty angry — but for the way he handled his anger when he saw a volleyball player kneeling during the national anthem. As an Indiana High School Athletic Association licensed official for more than two decades, he knows he has an obligation to honor his commitments.
It’s just like being in the military, the Air Force veteran said.
“In the Air Force, you have a duty, and you do it,” Saddler, a retired Presidential Flight Attendant on Air Force One, told IndyStar on Thursday. “The same with sporting events. I guess I went AWOL. I feel bad about it.” 
But in the heat of the moment, the 67-year-old Carmel resident and Indiana Pacers usher couldn’t help himself. As a veteran and someone with many friends who lost their lives defending this country, he has little tolerance for people he thinks are disrespecting them or what they died for. 
That’s why when he saw a North Central girls varsity volleyball player kneeling before an Oct. 9 match he was supposed to line judge, he couldn’t stay and do his duty.
He was barely able to contain his anger when he saw fans “sitting on their butts” during the national anthem, but once he saw the player on a knee, he had to leave.
Saddler calmly walked to the scorer’s bench, turned in his flag, then approached the North Central coach to inform him why he couldn’t stay.
As he was walking out, Saddler said, North Central assistant athletic director Andy Elkins shouted to him.
“You have a contract!” Saddler said Elkins hollered. Elkins then reminded Saddler that he was walking out on high school kids and that he had been paid $20 to line judge the game.
Saddler walked over to Elkins, handed him $20 and left.
He’s regretted it ever since.
“What they did just upset me so badly that I just could not stay there,” Saddler said.” (But) I know it’s her constitutional right to do what she wants to do. And it wasn’t fair to the other girls who were standing and respecting the flag. After I thought about it, you know, sometimes it takes you a little time to sit down and think about stuff and what you did. And after I thought about it, I would never ever do that again. I would never break a contract.”  
Elkins could not be reached for comment, but North Central athletic director Paul Loggan, who has spoken with Elkins since the incident, confirmed Saddler’s story except for saying he did not know whether Elkins had raised his voice.
Loggan said Elkins told him that Saddler was “very professional” and that he did not lose his temper with any players, coaches or fans.
A few days later, Saddler received a letter from IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox informing him that his license had been revoked for the rest of this school year and until winter sports begin next year.
Cox confirmed the suspension with IndyStar but declined to comment further for this story.
Saddler, who also officiates softball and basketball, said the letter shocked him. He had expected to be reprimanded, maybe even suspended for a few games or until the end of year, but a year-and-a-half? That seemed excessive to him.  
Saddler said that he’s never been in trouble with the IHSAA before and that as far as he knows, he’s a well-respected, well-liked official in Indiana.
Loggan confirmed as much.
“He’s a very well-respected official and man,” the North Central AD said. “He’s been a volleyball official here and a softball official here, and we’ve never had any issues with him.” 
Saddler thought there must have been some sort of mistake, so he made an appointment with Cox on Monday and explained why he did what he did and promised he would never do anything like it again.
“But it fell on deaf ears,” Saddler said.
At the end of the meeting, Saddler said, Cox told him that because he did not fulfill his contract, his suspension would stand and that there was no chance it would be altered. He said Cox explained that being an IHSAA licensed official is, according to bylaw 14.4, “a privilege and not a right” and that the commissioner has the right to revoke a license “of an official for cause which shall include, but not be limited to, the violation of the policies, purposes, rules and regulations of the IHSAA and any conduct, both on or off the field or court which would have a negative or detrimental effect upon the IHSAA, its members, students or the public.”
Saddler said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He knew he had done something wrong, but to him, the punishment did not fit the crime. He said he thought maybe Cox was angry after what happened Saturday night at Lawrence North High School. That incident occurred before a volleyball match, where IHSAA referees threatened to suspend any player who did not show respect for the flag or national anthem. Cox told the officials it is not within their jurisdiction to disqualify or suspend any athlete for activities occurring during the national anthem. None of those officials were suspended, and no one knelt during the anthem at that game.
"I don't think the IHSAA (cared) about what I said or what I did or that I said I wouldn't do it again," Saddler said. “Here I am a retired veteran, you have to see my point of view of what I did. Right?" 

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