The Board of Education has hired attorney Patrick Jennings of Hackensack to represent them in an appeal against the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association in order to have the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state title reinstated to the Bruins, who won the title last December and then had it taken away.
In filing his appeal, Jennings said that he believed the NJSIAA acted improperly in removing the state championship from the Bruins. The appeal was filed Tuesday.
“The Executive Committee acted contrary to its own constitution, by-laws, rules and regulations and it comes as at significant and costly price to the students of North Bergen,” the papers of the appeal read. “The Executive Committee compromised the standards of the entire association. In its haste, they stripped North Bergen of its NJSIAA state championship and trampled on the NJSIAA’s constitution, by-laws, rules and regulations.”
“North Bergen did not violate any of the NJSIAA’s by-laws, rules and regulations,” Jennings said. “Thus, we appealed the executive committee’s decision.”
After five weeks of extensive testimony, the NJSIAA’s seven-member controversies committee first ruled in late April that North Bergen did not illegally recruit two players on the team that won the state title in MetLife Stadium last December. However, the NJSIAA found that the contact made by former head coach Vince Ascolese's daughter to the two players, namely Denzell Leitch and Eric McMullen, was enough to be construed as recruiting. It was also learned that both players were living in apartments owned by Ascolese and his family, thus the ruling about recruiting.
The Bruins had won a thrilling 14-13 decision over Montclair, scoring a touchdown on the game’s final play.
The state title initially remained intact, but as a punishment, the NJSIAA ruled that North Bergen would be placed on a two-year probationary period and that the school’s administration would have to go to seminars regarding student/athlete eligibility.
However, in June, at the NJSIAA’s final meeting of the scholastic school year, the NJSIAA’s executive committee apparently unanimously overturned the initial ruling and stripped North Bergen of the title.
It was the first time in the history of the association that a state championship had been negated for alleged improprieties.
Jennings has had a good history of handling matters with the NJSIAA. He has represented several local schools in dealing with NJSIAA rules, as well as individual eligibility cases involving student/athletes.
North Bergen Board of Education attorney Jack Gillman said that the appeal “was the right move.”
“The NJSIAA’s executive committee’s ruling was unfair,” Gillman said. “That’s what we retained Pat Jennings to see if this was worthwhile in appealing. The executive committee should not be acting as an appellate body to their own controversies committee. They didn’t follow the rules. We have to appeal for the benefit of the kids who won the state championship fair and square on the field last December.” --Jim Hague