Dept. of Education Commissioner Denies NJSIAA Football and Wrestling Changes

Credits: Danielle Francisco

TRENTON, NJ – Department of Education Commissioner David Hespe rejected two ballot initiatives approved by NJSIAA members earlier this month.  The proposed changes to high school football and wrestling would have separated public and non-public schools.  These changes were supported nearly 2:1 on Dec 7 at the NJSIAA annual business meeting. 

While the topic was not new, it was re-introduced this fall garnering wide approval from the member Athletic Directors and Principals.  The vote in Dec was 215-128 to create a non-public football conference and 216-121 to separate the state wrestling tournament.  

Despite the definitive vote in early Dec, Hespe vetoed both proposals.  His position was relayed to Steven Timko, Executive Director of NJSIAA in a letter on Dec 28.  Hespe reached back several decades for the foundation of his decision, based on the opinions of previous commissioners.

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In Hespe’s decision regarding wrestling he relies on former Commissioner Lucille Davy rejection of a 2008 petition to separate the wrestling tournament.  While the previous petition was different the results would have been the same. In her rejection she stated any future proposal to be able to prove it 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 the realignment is necessary or that it will “not disadvantage these non-public school students.”

In his rejection of the proposed realignment of football league, regarding efforts to segregate elite non-public schools, Hespe said “this proposal does not ensure that all other (non-elite) non-public schools will be able to continue to compete with appropriately matched public schools in their region.”

Newton HIgh School Wrestling Coach Eric Bollette said, "I'm not surprised it was overturned.  Although the Coaches voted overwhelmingly to separate publics and non-publics in wrestling, there were rumors that this would never make it through the commissioner of education.  I guess the rumors were true. The NJSIAA does need to do something to curb the amount of student-athlete's transferring but I guess they will have to go back to the drawing board in the spring."

Hespe concluded some NJSIAA members have raised concerns about “fairness and safety issues”, however, the non-public schools have also raised concerns about “discrimination, equal athletic opportunity, and the ability to develop full schedules without increased burdens.” 

He directed NJSIAA to “conduct a study of these issues as soon as practicable.”  The study should determine initiatives to address the concerns with football and wrestling raised by the public schools, as well as an understanding of any consequences to non-publics in creating competitive schedules.  Hespe specifies the potential “transportation hardships or a loss of instructional time” for non-publics as items to be included in the study. 

It now appears that Sparta’s 2016 football season schedule will include a game against rival Pope John XXIII High School. 

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