a dissent on NJ's TOC

.A column penned Thursday by the Inquirer’s superb writer, Marc Narducci, argues the merits of New Jersey’s high school basketball Tournament of Champions, at one point using the word ``baseless’’ in describing one of the arguments posed against it. I don’t often delve into debates about high school sports, but since I have some personal experience in this one, I will at least blog about it.
I respectfully disagree with Marc. For one, The TOC is often a sham, pitting New Jersey Catholic schools that recruit players from wide areas against town teams restricted by geography. The idea that Villanova’s Corey Fisher, who grew up in the Bronx, could own two TOC titles and be named New Jersey High School Player of the Year while starring at St. Patrick’s, underlines this. A Haiti native and recruit via Canada, Sammy Dalembert was also once a ``New Jersey’’ star. A couple of years ago, girls powerhouse Immaculate Heart of Bergen County had to forfeit its perfect record and an almost certain spot in the TOC when it was revealed that one of its New York players had competed in high school there as an 8th-grader and was thus in her fifth season of high school basketball. Fifth-year senior indeed.
Marc makes the argument that losing in the TOC is no disgrace, and I wholeheartedly agree. The fault is that he comes at it, as do I, through the eyes of an adult, and with Socratic distance. I can tell you personally that this argument doesn’t wash on the night you are beat in the TOC, not even close. It was an unnecessary downer for my kid and her teammates after they won the Group 2 state championship earlier this decade.
It is also often unfair. The Catholic school state championship game, won by Red Bank Catholic, was held on Saturday that year. Our girls won on a Sunday night, partied like rock stars afterwards, then woke up the next day and bused up to some adult-friendly press conference in North Jersey the next day. When it came time to play the following day, they were sleep deprived, emotionally spent and not exactly thrilled to be there. They got whupped. They cried. And as Ricky Watters would say, `For who? For what?’’
To be the best of the best? C’mon, really. Who cares besides the elders of those towns, or the alums of the Catholics that wind up in the final game most years. This is a device built for people in the stands, or high school scribes, or self-important coaches -- not the kids on the court. Let them walk off for the final time that season as winners, not losers. Especially since the setup is so inherently unfair.
One last jab. This year the Group 2 South Jersey Girls winner played the newest member of Central Jersey Group 2, Shabazz High School. The defending TOC champions, Shabazz is from Newark, which suggests either some backroom politics, or that global warming is way worse than originally thought.
I mean, you can see New York City from Newark.
Perennial winners of the TOC, Shabazz dropped down from Group 3 to Group 2 this year, and ended Rumson-Fair Haven’s nine-year run as Central Jersey champions.