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Close vote rejects separate parochial and public leagues

Also defeated was a plan for separate leagues in football only, abolishing the power-point system.

EDISON, N.J. - New Jersey administrators yesterday defeated two controversial NJSIAA proposals, including one that would have radically changed the face of high school sports in the state.

The NJSIAA's general membership, at its annual business meeting here at the Pines Manor, narrowly voted against a measure that would have placed the public and parochial schools in separate leagues for all sports. The vote was 186-178, with two abstentions. There were 367 members who registered to vote, so 184 "yes" votes were needed to pass the measure, which fell six votes shy. (One of the 367 members did not abstain or vote.)

The other proposal, which would have placed public and parochial schools in separate leagues for football only and would have abolished the power-point system, was defeated, 209-155, with two abstentions. The proposal, initiated by the Sussex County Interscholastic League in north Jersey, would have abolished all current football leagues and aligned teams in leagues based on their group size.

The Shore Conference, composed of teams from Ocean and Monmouth County, reportedly voted 42-0 against the football proposal, thus swinging the vote.

Parochial administrators were heavily against both proposals, saying they would have incurred increased travel expenses in the new league alignments and ended longstanding rivalries. The increased travel, they said, would hurt the student-athletes academically because they would have to leave classes earlier due to longer bus rides to games.

"We're ecstatic about the vote," Gloucester Catholic athletic director Tony Powers said. "If it was passed, it would have had a big impact - not only on the varsity but on the sub-varsity."

The Rev. Michael Kelly, the Seton Hall principal who was an outspoken opponent of the proposals, said he was pleased with yesterday's outcome. "And it wasn't just the nonpublics who voted," he said. "We had support from the public schools, too."

The Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League introduced the proposal to have the public and nonpublic schools aligned in separate leagues in all sports.

The crux: Parochial schools, unlike public schools, do not have geographical boundaries and can draw athletes from huge areas.

John Colman, the Gloucester Catholic principal, said the issue was "a local problem." He was referring to the public/parochial feud in the Northern New Jersey League.

"Why blow up a system that works . . . because of a local problem?" he asked.

Several South Jersey administrators were happy with yesterday's results.

"I'm from a conference [Olympic] where the public and parochial schools are able to coexist and we have a great conference," said Eastern athletic director Phil Smart, who voted "no" to both proposals.

Lefteris "Lefty" Banos, Haddonfield's athletic director, also voted "no" to the proposals. "We felt it was a local problem and they were asking for a blanket solution," he said.

Washington Township athletic director Kevin Murphy, whose school is an Olympic Conference member, said the conference's parochial and public schools "have a great relationship. That's not to say we don't have enrollment issues, but that's something that's best to be handled at the conference level."

Murphy said the NJSIAA "should be applauded" for forming a committee, composed of six parochial and six public-school administrators, that is trying to smooth out differences between the parties.

Joe Frappolli, the Florence football coach and athletic director, said his school voted "no" on the football proposal because "there were just too many economic issues."

His school voted "yes" on the other proposal, which would have put parochial and public schools in separate leagues for all sports. "The feeling was that there are some issues the NJSIAA has to address," he said.

Frappolli was hopeful the narrow vote on the proposal would create more dialogue between members of the parochial/public committee so they could iron out any problems.

The Rev. Paul Galetto, the St. Augustine president, said the proposals "address the symptom and not the illness. The real issue is the socioeconomic disparity between schools."

Galetto revealed that area parochial-school principals have discussed the possibility of forming a South Jersey parochial-school league; he said that type of league would be more beneficial than the one proposed yesterday because "it would be a local league where you compete against people you know and not traveling all over the state."

If either had passed, parochial schools planned to challenge the decision in the courts, Galetto said.

In a matter that seems related, a proposal will be introduced at tomorrow's NJSIAA meeting that deals with transfers. The measure could make transfers sit out one year before becoming eligible to play varsity sports, instead of the current 30-day period. The measure, designed to curtail transferring for athletic advantage, would not apply to students who changed residences with their parents or guardians.

Numerous athletes have transferred from public to parochial schools (and vice versa) in recent years.