TRENTON, NJ - The groundbreaking vote by New Jersey high school administrators that aimed to drastically change the culture of high school football and wrestling was vetoed by the state Department of Education last month.
In a letter sent to NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko on Dec. 28, education Commissioner David Hespe reversed the two ballot proposals that were aimed to separate public and non-public competition in two of New Jersey’s premiere sports.
According to Hespe, “ensuring a competitive balance and equitable playing opportunities are critical components of the NJSIAA’s mission.”
Despite a heavily favored vote in early December, Hespe declined both proposals based on previous commissioner’s views on interscholastic athletics.
“A 1982 Commissioner of Education decision perhaps says it best,” Hespe said. "A league and conference structure that provides opportunity for healthy athletic competition among urban, suburban, rural and parochial schools adds substantially to the benefits derived from such interaction and serves the interest of preparing our young people for future involvement with persons of diverse socioeconomic, regional, and religious backgrounds.”
Hespe did not find substantial evidence that proved either public or non-public institutions are negatively effected by a joint state wrestling tournament or football conferences.
The NJSIAA previously submitted an application in 2008 to separate the wrestling tournament. However, Commissioner Lucille Davy declined the proposal because it was “inconsistent with the principles articulated by the Commissioner.”
Davy told the NJSIAA that future proposals should be “supported by a fully developed record that demonstrates how the proposal would be consistent with past precedent, such as ensuring equal athletic opportunity.” According to Hespe, the NJSIAA’s proposal did not include sufficient factual support that necessitates a separation.
Similarly, Hespe declined the NJSIAA’s intention of creating a state-wide non-public football conference because it would force all non-public schools to conform to issues presented by just a few members.
Specifically, Hespe mentioned that there would be a burden on many non-public schools to fill a schedule with competitively equal schools in a financially responsible way should the conference re-alignment move forward.
Hespe said: “Completely excluding these non-public schools without a compelling rationale deprives them and the State of the benefits of diverse interscholastic athletic competition and equal athletic opportunity, and subjects those non-public schools to increased burdens in their attempt to provide for full schedules.”
The Commissioner’s decision overturns a heavily favored poll from December 7’s NJSIAA annual business meeting. During the vote, members decided 215-128 to add a non-public football conference and 216-121 to separate the wrestling state tournament.