ROBBINSVILLE, NJ – A pair of bills awaiting final passage by the legislature would negatively impact high school sports in New Jersey – including the state’s nearly 300,000 student-athletes –according to a position paper issued by the NJSIAA, the state’s governing body for high school sports, which represents approximately 435 member schools.
Bills A5254 and S3447 both would allow schools within the same school district to merge teams for any sport at the varsity level, without oversight or review.
“Both bills, as written, will allow schools to drop programs and limit playing opportunities, rather than create them – and the legislation would actually be replacing a level playing field with competitive imbalance,” said Larry White, NJSIAAe executive director. “Fewer teams mean fewer opportunities for students to experience education-based athletics. Removing any oversight or review will give districts the green light to create all-star teams from a combined school district talent pool. Every student, parent, administrator and coach should be very, very concerned,” he added.
More than 20 school districts in New Jersey have more than a single high school, with one district having as many as 12 high schools.
According to the NJSIAA, the legislation would:
• require school districts, other than county vocational school districts, to allow students who attend nonpublic schools to try out for, and participate in, interscholastic athletics in the student’s district of residence if the nonpublic school does not sponsor an interscholastic sports team or squad in the sport in which the student wishes to participate;
• require school districts, other than county vocational school districts, to allow students who are homeschooled to try out for, and participate in, interscholastic athletics in the student’s district of residence; and
• require school districts, other than county vocational school districts, to allow a student who attends a charter school to try out for, and participate in, interscholastic athletics in his resident district if the student’s charter school does not sponsor an interscholastic sports team in the sport in which the student wishes to participate. There is a reciprocal provision for students enrolled in public schools who may want to participate in interscholastic athletics sponsored by charter schools.
“The amended Senate bill is even more problematic and would place an enormous burden on public schools, with student-athletes in their schools being displaced,” White said. “It will also serve to further complicate the issues as related to athletic recruiting, athletic advantage and transfers.”
For 30 years, NJSIAA has provided a remedy for schools facing challenges related to fielding teams due to declining interest. It has permitted member schools, in cases where one or two schools have an insufficient number of players, to form Cooperative Sports Programs. Last year alone, more than 116 schools joined to form cooperative teams. Programs simply need to demonstrate a decline in interest or participation in the sport and secure approval from their Leagues or Conferences and the NJSIAA Executive Committee.
The NJSIAA allows Cooperative Sports Programs in the following sports: bowling, cross country, field hockey, fencing, football, golf, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis, volleyball, winter track and wrestling. Since inception in 1985, the cooperative sports program has evolved to meet the needs of member schools, according to White.
“For 100 years, NJSIAA members – coaches, athletic directors, principals, superintendents, and officials – have written, implemented and enforced the rules governing NJSIAA high school sports, and have proven they are best suited to understand the complexities of interscholastic sports and the needs of our students,” White said. “The NJSIAA and its member schools have worked together to provide solutions to these complexities”.