Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Looking to Resolve Disparity

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Looking to Resolve Disparity

Article excerpt

They win. Big.

They attract some of the best athletes in New Jersey -- and beyond. And with each state title, each out-of-state showdown nationally broadcast on ESPN, North Jersey's non-public school football programs lure more athletes, more exposure and a higher profile.

Even non-public officials understand just how deep the competitive imbalance runs between their programs and public schools.

"I understand that it's not a level playing field," said Don Bosco athletic director Brian McAleer, "because we aren't confined to one district and can attract kids from a variety of towns."

The system has reached a breaking point as both publics and non- publics recognize they cannot continue to compete against one another. In essence, the rich keep getting richer, while publics contend they have no chance to compete.

And both sides are seeking solutions.

The statistics illustrate the chasm between the haves and have- nots.

The five members of the Big North United -- Bergen Catholic, DePaul, Don Bosco, Paramus Catholic and St. Joseph -- own a 64-3 record against the conference's public teams since the league was formed in 2010.

The average margin of victory was 32 points.

"You can't have all these large-enrollment schools playing against schools who can recruit from three different states," said Old Tappan athletic director Tom Kaechele. "We have four towns to draw from. The physical element enters the equation in this case."

Non-public schools can attract students from a seemingly unlimited geographical area and are willing to make the monetary commitment to compete nationally and win. Meanwhile, public schools are constrained by their own enrollment borders.

What makes that ever-widening gap bitter to some public officials is that the non-publics are winning with players who could be on their own sideline had they played for their home district.

One athletic director compared it to a barnstorming tour: The non- public school shows up en masse, wins big, celebrates and a handful more of the town's youth players sign up to attend next year.

It's a vicious cycle for the publics.

And the specter of recruiting continues to be a major issue.

Another athletic director said the non-publics have grown so brazen that assistant coaches sometimes show up at public school freshman games perhaps to cozy up to potential players.

Most non-public coaches contend they do not have to recruit. They claim the best recruiters are current and former players, and their own success.

Recruiting, however subtle or blatant, seems unfixable.

"It's still a major issue," Kaechele said. "And the public schools are very frustrated with the scenario, but I don't think anybody has a solution. I think the very existence of a non-public school is to entice people from everywhere. You don't have a home base. …

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