By Phil Anastasia
ROBBINSVILLE, N.J. -- As it turns out, nearly two-thirds of NJSIAA member schools were in agreement about state championships in public-school football.
They agreed not to vote for them.
By a resounding margin, NJSIAA schools on Monday shot down a proposal that would have created state championship games in public-school football for the first time in New Jersey history.
The proposal was voted down at the organization's general membership meeting at the Pines Manor banquet hall by 183-95, with three abstentions. A two-third majority was needed to pass the proposal.
"I'm disappointed but the membership has spoken," said NJSIAA director Jack DuBois, who oversees football for the organization that governs high school sports in the state.
DuBois and others, including NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko, had lobbied for the proposal, noting that New Jersey is one of just two states in the country that doesn't offer state championships in public football. Massachusetts is the other.
"We're a member-driven organization," Timko said.
The vote maintains the current system, in which public teams play to sectional titles in five groups. Non-public teams have been playing for state championships since 1993.
Under NJSIAA rules, a new proposal to create state finals in public football can't be submitted to the membership for two years.
But given the emphatic nature of the "thumbs down" on the proposal, as well as the variety of reasons for which schools were against the change, supporters of the proposal seemed resigned to the likelihood that there will not be state championships in public football in the foreseeable future.
"I'll never say it will never happen," DuBois said. "But the member schools make the rules and regulations. We only enforce them."
Several administrators, including Absegami's Steve Fortis, spoke out against the proposal during a public session before the vote.
Fortis said there was wide-spread concern that NJSIAA officials would change the format after two years, eliminating Thanksgiving Day games.
"You're going to come back in two years and say you need to shorten the season and the only way to do that is to eliminate the Thanksgiving Day games," Fortis said.
After the vote, Fortis said he was "pleasantly surprised" at the margin by which the proposal was defeated.
Others expressed concerns about lengthening the season at a time of increased awareness of the dangers of concussions, and also about an early start in the summer and an encroachment on the winter sports season.
Others mentioned increased costs to pay for coaches and trainers during a longer season. Still others were opposed to the seasons starting on Labor Day weekend, as they would have twice in a seven-year cycle under the proposal.
"The concussion issue is not coming out of practices, it's coming out of games," said Mainland athletic director Mike Gatley, the president of the Cape-Atlantic League.
Lenae athletic director Tim Walsh said he was a "little bit" shocked at the vote. He said his district was against the proposal.
"We're taking more and more (free time) away from these kids," Walsh said.
Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson, whose team will play in the South Jersey Group 4 title game Saturday against Shawnee at Rowan, was disappointed by the vote but not surprised.
"If it would have passed, that would have been great," Hinson said. "But things are still great. We're still competing at the highest level possible."
Cherokee coach P.J. Mehigan, whose team will play Eastern in the South Jersey Group 5 title game on Friday night at Rowan, had mixed emotions.
"I'm still ambivilent about it," Mehigan said. "In some ways, it's nice see more teams win sectional championships and finish their seasons that way. But part of me says in '09 and '10 (when Cherokee won South Jersey titles)) I would have liked to go on and see what we could do."
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