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New Jersey Report

Editorial - What does a boy have to do to make all-state?

December 9, 2006

By Ed Grant

What does a boy have to do to make an all-state team?

The usual qualifications are obvious, but no, unfortunately to the newspaper that bills itself as the "Voice of New Jersey."

Among the competitors in the Footlocker Finals was Brandon Jarrett, a 16-year-old junior at St. Benedict 's Prep in Newark, one of the true pioneers of cross-country in the nation, its championships dating back to at least 1921.

Jarrett had a number of notable races this season. He won the Essex County title in record time, took the state prep A title, ran the second fastest time of the season at the state championship course at Holmdel County Park, and finished 2nd to fellow Footlocker finalist Paul Springer (in the ‘G’ race) at the massive Manhattan Invitational in 12:31 with the fifth-fastest time of the day (all five boys were in San Diego). Then he was 8th at the Foot Locker Northeast in 15:29.9, only 15 seconds off the course record (editor’s note: He went on to a 12th-place finish at FL Finals, after this was written).

But when the Star-Ledger team was published last Friday, Jarrett's name was to be found nowhere on the first three teams; his only selection came in the prep squad. He was also ignored as Essex County runner of the year, despite winning that race by 250 yards.

Why? Well, it seems Jarrett does not go to the "right" school. St. Benedict's, which was one of the founding schools of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, is now just an "affiliate" member, ineligible for that group's championship meet and thus "outside the pale" when it comes to making all-state teams in a paper whose editorials constantly inveigh against other types of discrimination.

This policy carries to all other all-state teams save one. When the paper decided to select a girls' all-state several years ago, it found that there were only a handful of such squads in the state, the majority of them at such other "banned" schools as Lawrenceville, Peddie and Blair (St.. Benedict's, as an all-boys school, is not involved in this one.) So, each March we are treated to a boys' all-state hockey team that excludes the prep school stars and a girls' team composed almost entirely of such teams.

It was almost five years ago that this dictum came down to the paper's school sports office from the main office. It is almost an open secret that the garget of the order was the St. Benedict's soccer team, which includes players from South America and is annually ranked among the nation's best. But it could hardly be limited to one team from one school, so it became a general policy, with the above-noted exception. By the way, the paper has never explained its action to its readers.

In other sports, all-star teams are a matter of opinion, though some players obviously rise above the field. But in track and cross-country, where the top athletes meet regularly during the season, there is nowhere to hide.

The Star-Ledger could, of course, cover itself by calling its teams by their proper name---all-NJSIAA. What makes its actions even more questionable is a financial tie with the NJSIAA---the paper has supported the track and field program for a number of years and recently purchased exclusive TV rights to championship events, a $400,000 boon to the financially strapped organization.

In another matter, no New Jersey paper has yet commented on the still-active campaign to prevent athletes---almost exclusively from track and field---to compete in inter-state competition unless their schools are members of a state association. The problem has been quietly solved in New Jersey, but continues to afflict those in other states, most notably members of the Philadelphia Catholic High Schools Athletic Association (with the exception of the Penn Relays.)

This policy began in New York, of course, and, among the schools affected in its early years was tiny Trinity Christian. Three years ago, this school had two outstanding runners, junior Sean McKinstry and freshman and freshman Andrew Hanko. The next year, Trinity joined the NJSIAA and, since then, both boys have won state championships. It is also worth noting that Sean is now a student at the U.S. Military Academy and Andrew intends to enter the U.S. Naval Academy this June. But, to the gentlemen who run high school athletics, they were at one time considered unfit to compete against boys from the Empire State.


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