Earlier this month New Jersey's governing body for high School sports voted to segregate all the Catholic schools into their own state-wide conference, preventing them from competing with any public school teams. According to the NJSIAA the policy was needed to promote "fairness," because a handful of the Catholic schools are too good at football or wrestling.
Yesterday, Education Commissioner David Hespe disagreed.
In one of the most significant decisions ever in New Jersey high school sports, State Commissioner of Education David Hespe ruled Monday to reverse a pair of controversial votes separating public and non-public schools in football and wrestling for the first time in state history.
In a memo sent to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Monday, Hespe explains his decisions to overturn the votes, saying the wrestling change "fails to address how the proposal maintains equal athletic opportunity for non-public school students and will be implemented in a way to not disadvantage these non-public school students."
Hespe further explains his football decision by saying the proposal "will take away the NJSIAA's ability to develop full schedules for non- elite non-public schools that are appropriately matched with public schools in their region."
In other words, the new policy was blatantly discriminatory, and designed to disadvantage student athletes attending Catholic high schools. Ergo, it cannot stand.
This is a tremendous victory for common sense and actual fairness.
The vast majority of Catholic high schools do not field elite sport teams. These schools have amicably competed with their local public counterparts for decades, and a policy which sequesters them into seeking out only other Catholic opponents would wreak havoc with students' lives, sending them potentially dozens of miles from home to venues far and wide in order to participate in sports programs.
Hespe's reversals now leave the state's high school sports landscape back where it began — with a contentious public/non-public divide lingering.
NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko released a statement after Hespe's decision, saying "there was much anticipation in advance of this ruling, and since it may not alleviate concerns related to competitive balance, the NJSIAA will continue seeking a recipe for fair play among member schools."
The public schools are peeved because they're restricted to accepting students from a defined geographic area, ie the local town or school district. Catholic schools don't enforce arbitrary restrictions, so the "competitive balance" factor is trotted out to blame them for enrolling students from what could be a larger talent pool.
It's a problem that universal school choice would solve in the first 15 minutes of its implementation. But school choice would take power away from the urban teachers unions, and in New Jersey nothing can ever be done if the unions aren't on board. So, school choice is a non-starter.
The result is that the public schools will keep dreaming up schemes to make attending Catholic school less attractive, on the assumption that the students will then "come home." How that is good for the students is, sadly, unclear.
Thankfully we have in David Hespe an educator who is unwilling to countenance
discrimination. I applaud him for reversing this blatant attempt at creating
a Catholic athletic ghetto, and I pray that our state's student athletes will
continue to freely compete in a spirit of fair play.
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