SUMMIT, NJ – North Plainfield high school football players, coaches and parents maintain that bananas repeatedly shoved through a locker room door was a racist taunt, while Summit officials maintain there was no racist intent in a superstitious prank.
What’s at stake is more than just who’s right and who’s wrong, but potentially the eligibility of players involved in the incident and potentially the longest current winning streak in New Jersey high school football.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) is investigating the incident, and has required the two schools to provide reports on their own sides of the incident by the end of today.
"Once the NJSIAA has gathered and reviewed sufficient additional information," said NJSIAA President Steve Timko. "It will have the option of referring the matter to its Controversies Committee for additional investigation."
If the NJSIAA determines the incident did have a bias or racist component the report could be forwarded to a special committee with the power to hand down penalties.
The Summit Hilltopper’s 26-0 win over the North Plainfield Canucks on September 13 was the Union County school’s 25th in a row, giving Summit sole possession of the longest streak after Montclair lost after twenty four wins.
According to the NJSIAA bylaws, one of the penalties the Controversies Committee could hand down would be a forfeiture of the game between the Hilltoppers and the Canucks. That would erase the winning streak of one of the best teams in the Garden State. Summit won the Group III state championship in 2013.
Other penalties could include the suspension of players or coaches, fines to the school at fault, loss of championship titles, probation of a sports program, or even expulsion from the NJSIAA.
The other possibility is that the Controversies Committee could find that the Summit player did not do anything wrong, and therefore not hand down any penalties.
The NJSIAA is not able to provide a list of recent or historical penalties that have been handed down by the Controversies Committee, but notes that the Eligibility Committee has reveiwed 1978 cases since its inception in 1983. They provided less than 1,000 rulings on these cases, including upholding eligibility for 476 students and denying it for 495. 18 were found partially eligible.
Any penalty handed down by the Eligibility or Controversies Committees can be appealed to the NJSIAA Executive Committee. The Eligibility Committee has been appealed 312 times and reversed in 124 of these cases.
In 2011 the NJSIAA stripped North Bergen High School of its state football championship after their coach was found to have recruited players who lived in other towns. The entire program was placed on probation for two years based on the same infraction. Such a set of penalties would likely be out of line if even the worst is found in this incident.
St. Patrick's High School in Elizabeth was banned from the state basketball tournament by the NJSIAA Controversies Committee in 2010 after the program was found to be holding official practices out of the regular season in front of college scouts. St. Patrick's appealed its penalty but the Executive Committee rejected the appeal. St. Patrick's has since been closed, though not due to the sanctions.