Winter sports will get early start in some S. Jersey leagues

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Paulsboro's Saleem Little. (Akira Suwa/Staff Photographer)

Basketball, wrestling, and indoor track teams in the Colonial Conference and Cape-Atlantic League will be able to start practice on Nov. 24.

The same likely will be true for many teams in the Burlington County Scholastic League.

But teams in the Olympic Conference will have to wait a week and won't be able to start the winter season until Dec. 1.

That staggered start is a result of a decision made by the Olympic Conference to overrule a pilot program established by the NJSIAA in September to allow boys' and girls' basketball teams to start practice on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

The NJSIAA in October amended the rule to allow wrestling and indoor track teams to start the same day.

Olympic Conference athletic directors approved a motion to require basketball, wrestling, and indoor track teams to delay the start of practice until the Monday after Thanksgiving, according to conference president Tim Walsh, the athletic director at Lenape.

"We felt like it was a decision in the best interests of the student-athletes," Walsh said.

The Colonial Conference and Cape-Atlantic League will allow its teams to start on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

The Burlington County Scholastic League will decide its stance on the issue at a meeting on Thursday.

Northern Burlington athletic director Dan Uszaki, the BCSL president, said the league officials first will vote on whether the league has the authority to supersede NJSIAA guidelines and dictate starting dates to its members.

"My feeling is that the league likely will vote that we can't tell schools when they can start," Uszaki said. "So it probably will be left up to each school district to decide whether to participate in this pilot program."

The NJSIAA general membership voted in December 2010 to change the traditional starting date for winter practice from the Friday after Thanksgiving to the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Many officials said at the time that the change made sense from an economic standpoint as it eliminated the cost of opening buildings over a holiday weekend and also would allow for increased family time for athletes, coaches, and administrators.

"One of the things we heard from our [athletic directors] was that was one of the best decisions ever made by the state," Walsh said.

The NJSIAA's executive committee in September approved a one-year pilot program to change the starting date to the Monday before Thanksgiving for "tryouts." Under the terms of the pilot program, teams can hold workouts on Monday Tuesday, and Wednesday but not over the holiday weekend.

Also, the official starting date of the winter season remains the Monday after Thanksgiving, meaning teams can't scrimmage until they hold six days of practices from that date.

Mainland athletic director Mike Gatley, the president of the Cape-Atlantic League, noted that the pilot program was "optional" for schools.

"The CAL has embraced the waiver," Gatley said, referring to the pilot program. "Our teams will have the option of holding tryouts those three days."

The Colonial Conference also will allow teams to start on Nov. 24, although the conference needed a second vote to provide teams with that opportunity.

Sterling athletic director Matt Sheehan, the Colonial president, said the conference's athletic directors voted 7-5 on Oct. 8 to leave the starting date on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

But that was before the NJSIAA amended its pilot program that same day to include wrestling and indoor track. Sheehan said he e-mailed the conference athletic directors that night, asking for a revote, and the results came back in a 6-6 tie.

As a result, Sheehan said, Colonial teams will be able to start Nov. 24.

"It's optional," Sheehan said. "Some schools see it as an opportunity to do a sort of an orientation, get the kids started with the program."

 


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