By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Asbury Park’s Blue Bishops will field a team of 18 against Keyport Friday and School Superintendent Dr. Rashawn M. Adams feels confident the rest of the season is on, after a sudden question as to the academic eligible of “seven or eight” players forced officials to forfeit their first game against a high school in Newark last week.
Adams made the announcement Wednesday afternoon at a press conference in front of Asbury Park Board of Education offices on Fourth Avenue as a light drizzle permeated the activities.
And while this story might have started as a football one, it soon morphed into a determination of eligibility for all who participate in fall sports in the district and it has morphed yet again into a high school-wide evaluation of academic requirements for graduation.
Adams also acknowledged a breakdown in the system which led to his only being informed of the football eligibility question at approximately 11:30 a.m. last Friday, only hours before the team’s first match.
He credited recently installed High School Principal Bridget O’Neill for determining the eligibility shortfall and calling it to his attention. And while the process typically begins with the guidance department and then heads to the athletic director and then the coaches and ultimately the building principal to determine whether students have sufficient credits to participate in extracurricular activities, it was summer after all and some grades had not been inputted until the last possible minute.
Initially, 25 students came out for football this season and the team of 18 eligible players is the minimum amount required by the state’s governing body, the Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association, only 11 players are on the field at any one time. Adams said he does not believe fielding the minimum number of players will causes this issue to pop up again later in the season.
Had Adams allowed the match last week against Weequahic High School to go forward with ineligible players, he believes the ramifications could have been much more severe than the forfeit the Bishops had to accept. Safety was the primary concern. But if an ineligible player had become injured during the game, that can of worms would have been worse, he suggested, up to and including allegations that he had participated in a cover up that allowed the ineligible team to go forward.
Adams also noted he objected to the incident being used in town as a political football – no pun intended- in which the players and by extension the students have become “pawns.” The question of recreational opportunities for young people is likely to become an issue in this November’s race for mayor and council but Mayor John B. Moor, who is seeking re-election, declined to comment on it, saying it was a Board of Education issue.
As important as football – and extracurricular activities are – for the lessons they teach regarding volunteerism, service and life skills – the far more important reason to take a pause on this whole affair is because it forces a focus on graduation eligibility, Adams said.
He noted he taught one of those life lessons when he had “the hard task” of explaining to the players why they could not play last week.
“There was some pisspoor preparation and also some pain with it, talking with the coaches,” Adams said, noting he was determined to be transparent about the issue.
He talked about the process of “credit recovery” by which school officials had to certify every academic credit had been adequately achieved and officials were successful in finding a retinue of eligible players.
“As I told the students, accountability just doesn’t happen to students,’ he said, Officials and parents should be on top of students’ academic performance.”
“This is about leadership and leadership comes into play when it is not convenient,” Adams said. “I tried to do it the right way,” which meant initially determining the whole team was ineligible and working backward.