The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association expects to issue findings of its investigation into the Buena High School wrestling controversy within the next couple of weeks, NJSIAA attorney Steve Goodell said Wednesday.
Goodell said the NJSIAA is “working alongside” the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights, which also is conducting an investigation into the Dec. 19 match in which referee Alan Maloney required Buena wrestler Andrew Johnson to choose between having his dreadlocks sheared by the school’s trainer or forfeiting his match.
Video of the hair cutting went viral, and the incident prompted charges of racism and cultural bias against Maloney, who is white. Johnson is biracial.
“The task force is wrapping up its investigation and will issue its decision when complete without any additional review by our executive committee,” Goodell said after the NJSIAA executive committee’s final meeting of the school year at its headquarters in Robbinsville, Mercer County. “We hope to get it out as soon as possible.”
In March, Maloney took the first step toward a possible lawsuit by filing a notice of tort claim, which was sent to 12 possible defendants, including the NJSIAA. In it, Maloney claimed that he had suffered $100,000 in damages.
After the Dec. 19 incident, Maloney was prohibited by the NJSIAA from officiating any additional matches during the remainder of the wrestling season. Wrestling officials earn around $84 to officiate a varsity match.
Maloney’s attorney, Ralph Paolone, who also is the wrestling coach at Holy Spirit High School, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
The incident created a national furor, with notable figures such as Olympic wrestling champion Jordan Burroughs criticizing Maloney for forcing Johnson to decide whether to have his hair cut or forfeit his bout that night against Oakcrest.
Maloney’s defenders noted that the veteran referee was following the rules and that Johnson needed a sanctioned hair covering to compete.
“Alan did everything right,” veteran wrestling official Howie O’Neill, who is the director of the NJSIAA’s state tournament in Atlantic City, said two days after the incident.
In his notice of tort claim, Maloney wrote, “Mr. Maloney properly performed his duties as the referee and fairly applied the rules governing a wrestling match."
Dominic Speziali, a Philadelphia lawyer representing Johnson and his family, has said that Johnson’s hair length was within regulations and that the junior 120-pound athlete was singled out.