The Newark Star-Ledger had an in-depth investigative article in last Sunday’s edition concerning what the paper alleged was illegal recruiting done by legendary North Bergen football coach Vince Ascolese.
The recruiting charge is regarding two players on the Bruins’ recent state championship team who transferred to North Bergen and moved into apartments in a house owned by Ascolese’s daughters.
The newspaper reported that seniors Denzell Leitch and Eric McMullen, both starters on the state title team, have been living in apartments owned by the Ascolese family.
The paper, through interviews with Leitch and his father, Ingram Leitch, maintains that Leitch allegedly was lured to North Bergen with promises of college scholarships. Ascolese even gave the elder Leitch a deal, the paper says, allowing him to live in the apartment for $300 a month.
The paper also claims that the same promises were made to McMullen, who moved into the house last summer and became eligible to play for the Bruins in the fall.
The article portrays Ascolese as a cold-hearted man who lured the players in and then turned his back on them after the season was over.
The reason for the discord? Well, Leitch’s father apparently stopped paying the rent. So the move was made to evict him. McMullen’s mother said in the article that she was only supposed to pay what she could afford, and only made one payment of $750 in November.
Ingram Leitch, the man who blew the whistle on the whole thing, apparently hadn’t paid his ridiculously discounted rent to Ascolese for months and was apparently allowing the kid to live alone without any parental supervision since the summer.
The elder Leitch is quoted as saying that Ascolese “used my son and then kicked him to the curb.”
The timing of the situation seems poor, considering that it all came to a head after the football season was over. But this was more thanks to coincidence. It certainly was not because Ascolese gave the kids a free ride until after the football season. It just looks that way.
The reason the Ledger wrote the lengthy piece is because it alleges that Ascolese is guilty of the one dirty word in high school athletics: recruiting. It’s the one word that no one involved in high school sports wants to hear.
Throughout the article, it states that Ascolese recruited these two youngsters to come to North Bergen, that he made promises of college scholarships and better opportunities. It says that the students were lavished with meals at the Ascolese home.
That’s the part of the article that is a bit disconcerting and definitely a piece of shoddy reporting. There’s no way in the world that Vince Ascolese knew who Denzell Leitch was two summers ago. He wouldn’t have known the kid for a hole in the wall. So how could the coach recruit someone he didn’t know?
In fact, the two players became friends with Ascolese’s grandson Vin when they met him at football camps. It was Leitch’s father who approached Ascolese. The father failed – according to the Star-Ledger –to pay $9,000 of the kid’s tuition at a Brooklyn private school. According to sources, Leitch was headed to Snyder High School. His mother lives in Jersey City.
So Leitch’s father brokered the deal, got a cushy rent agreement, then simply believed that his son could live in that apartment – alone and rent free – because he played football for the landlord.
Can you comprehend this parent let his son live alone without parental supervision? Ingram Leitch gets a nice rent deal, apparently fails to pay the rent, leaves his kid to fend on his own, and because the landlord asks for the rent, he goes running to a newspaper to lay claims that he was lured to North Bergen.
The claims of being lavished with dinners is also comical, because Pat Ascolese, the coach’s wife, has been feeding hundreds of kids – football players and non-football players – for 50 years. She’s cooked about 10,000 pounds of pasta and 5,000 pounds of sausage over the years and never once was it ever thought of as being part of recruiting.
The article portrays both the elder and younger Leitch as characters you have to have sympathy for. It said the elder Leitch lost his job as a bus driver in November and simply can’t afford to pay the rent. If that’s the case, then you file for Section 8 public housing assistance. You don’t run to a newspaper.
It says that the younger Leitch had hopes of being a major college football prospect. But the kid is 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds. It wouldn’t matter if he could run a 3.9 40-yard dash. No major college was going to look at him.
There’s no question that both the parents of Leitch and McMullen believed that they had some sort of entitlement because their sons were football players, even to the point where they thought they didn’t have to pay rent. Everyone has to pay rent. Ingram Leitch didn’t pay the rent on the apartment, was asked to leave, and then went scurrying to a newspaper.
Bottom line is this: Vince Ascolese did not recruit anyone. If anything, his grandson and daughter might have steered McMullen toward North Bergen after he was set to leave Paulsboro, but there wasn’t a hint of recruiting here.
The article has started an investigation by both the NJSIAA and the North Bergen Board of Education. There have been some reports that the NJSIAA’s Controversies Committee could eventually vote to have the state championship vacated.
Can that happen? Sure. Will it? Doubtful.
What is Vince Ascolese guilty of in this situation? He’s guilty of being a nice man, like he’s always been, and guilty of being a little foolhardy in offering these players a place to live. But the idea that he had anything to do with recruiting them and luring them to North Bergen is absurd.
Unfortunately, the article has already gone a long way to tarnish Ascolese’s impeccable reputation and that’s a shame. You can only hope that the NJSIAA investigation finds nothing further and the whole thing just goes away.
Because Vince Ascolese, now 74 years old and battling cancer, doesn’t need this kind of attention…
In other news…
Promising Union City welterweight boxer Juan “The Beast” Rodriguez improved his professional record to 8-0 with a win over Carlos Ramos last Saturday night. Rodriguez is one of several talented fighters working and training with Joe Botti, who also manages and trains another up-and-comer, Jason “Monstruo” Escalera, the supermarket produce manager who is also undefeated. Escalera returns to the ring Feb. 4 in Albany. Rodriguez will get his next fight sometime in March, according to Botti…
The St. Anthony girls’ basketball team has won five of their last six games to pull to an even .500 under first-year head coach Buddy Matthews. Matthews says that the biggest reason for the Friars’ sensational turnaround has been the play of senior power forward Jasmine Brandon, who has been averaging almost 20 points per game over the hot stretch….
The St. Peter’s Prep swim team, which is enjoying its best season in recent memory at 9-1, pulled off two huge upsets last week, beating state ranked powers Seton Hall Prep and Hunterdon Central in the matter of 48 hours.
Leading the way for the Marauders is a pair of brothers, Jonathan and Maicoll Gomez, who had fine swimming reputations in their native Colombia. Jonathan is a junior, Maicoll is a freshman…
Hudson Reporter Boys’ H.S. Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Anthony (13-0). 2. Hudson Catholic (11-2). 3. St. Peter’s Prep (9-4). 4. Bayonne (8-4). 5. Dickinson (11-4).
Hudson Reporter Girls’ H.S. Basketball Top Five: 1. Bayonne (13-3). 2. Lincoln (11-2). 3. Secaucus (11-3). 4. St. Dominic Academy (7-5). 5. Hoboken (8-4).
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.