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Archive for November 13, 2006

Nov. 13, 2006 — Growing pains for NJ Tournament of Champions

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association is about to embark on its inaugural Tournament of Champions, featuring Group I winner Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), Group II victor North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.), Group III survivor Moorestown (N.J.), and Group IV champion Voorhees Eastern (N.J.).

To be sure, running the tournament is not the smoothest proposition, having to take roughly half of the 220 or so public and dues-paying parochial and preparatory schools that play field hockey and narrow them down to 16 sectional champions.

Once that happens, the process should be easy. But it isn’t. A number of problems have cropped up, both on and off the pitch.

The title of Ryan Lawrence’s blog entry on Nov. 6th said it all when it came to scheduling the group semifinals. Something is wrong with the way that the NJSIAA negotiates site contracts with its member institutions if the closest school that could host an Eastern vs. Rancocas Valley match is way up towards Parlin, N.J. — up towards the inlet that is the northernmost point of the Jersey Shore.

The same goes for the way the state moved the group finals quadrupleheader clear across the state to Toms River (N.J.) North from its usual home, The College of New Jersey. The NJSIAA locked in the TRN site a month ahead of time, even though there is plenty of turf near the Hillwood Lakes campus, such as Princeton University, Princeton High School, Mercer County Community College, and even Robbinsville High School.

As it turned out, while reported crowds of about 350 people watched the group finals yesterday, Lions Stadium sat empty. That was because Messiah, a Christian college that never plays on Sundays, was in TCNJ’s quarter of the NCAA Division III field hockey bracket.

If the NCAA is flexible enough to accomodate Messiah, it should be flexible enough in the future to accomodate the NJSIAA finals. Any NCAA second- or third-round matches at Lions Stadium should be held on a Friday-Saturday schedule — whether Messiah is in the bracket or not.

There was another troubling episode in the quadrupleheader. In the Group III final, both Glen Gardner Voorhees (N.J.) and Moorestown (N.J.) found themselves at the stadium with their home whites. The Quakers were obligated to wear numberless black T-shirts with the words “Moorestown Field Hockey” and a logo with multicolored flames on the back. No numbers.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been much of a bother if both teams had worn their road kits, since they are far enough apart in color (maroon for Voorhees, gold and black for Moorestown) so that the umpires could tell them apart. It would look like a professional soccer match, where clubs always wear their primary colors (red for Manchester United, black for D.C. United, or pink for Palermo, for example) unless they look too much like the other team, whereupon the road team is obligated to don a second-change strip.

But in this case, it’s a basic management problem if teams aren’t informed whether they are the home or the road team in a neutral-site match. Moorestown was obligated to slog out the match wearing cotton T-shirts in a cold rainstorm without a way for Voorhees players (or umpires, for that matter) to identify their opponents.

The situation is not beyond repair. However, the NJSIAA has been under scrutiny for more than a year by the state legislature, and a takeover by the state Department of Education has been proposed.

And I’m not so sure that’s the solution.