The Hudson County Youth Football League became the center of controversy recently after it was discovered that its most dominant heavyweight team, the North Bergen Red Raiders, used an allegedly ineligible player in each game.
The discovery eventually led to the league’s decision to bar the Red Raiders from the playoffs. A judge ruled Friday, Nov. 18 in Hudson County Superior Court that an injunction filed by North Bergen Recreation to reverse the league’s decision had no grounds.
Parents and North Bergen representatives are upset that their town has been disqualified from the playoffs, and have disagreed with the judge’s decision.
The Hudson County Youth Football League consists of hundreds of students throughout the county. Each town is generally comprised of a lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight team. The heavyweight teams include students from seventh and eighth grades.
The Red Raiders, who have been undefeated for the previous three years, were off to a 2-0 start until it was discovered that one of the players was technically a resident of Union City at the time of registration.
According the bylaws of the league, a game is deemed a forfeit if it is determined that an ineligible player had participated.
North Bergen was penalized two losses and a fine, according to John Cellini, supervisor of the North Bergen Recreation Department. The player then did not participate in the following three games.
According to Steve Nash, a league board member and recording secretary, then-commissioner Roy Miller decided to reinstate the student after North Bergen submitted evidence that the student had extenuating circumstances. Due to financial trouble, the student and his family had evidently moved out of his Union City house and into a North Bergen residence with relatives.
However, Nash mentioned that following the reinstatement, it was found that the player had technically been a resident of Union City at the time of the Sept. 17 deadline. Nash claimed that information received from Union City proved that the student did not move to North Bergen until Oct. 3. Each subsequent game that the student participated in was deemed a forfeit, which disqualified the Red Raiders from the playoffs.
Without league interference, the Red Raiders would have an undefeated record, making it their fourth in consecutive years.
Miller steps down
Miller stepped down recently after having served as league commissioner for 23 years. According to Nash, the decision was a result of the controversy.
“The way this all transpired – it’s making him [Miller] look like a bad guy,” said Nash, “and it’s making the league look like a bad guy.”
“He’s a good guy,” added Nash, “and he’s done a lot for the kids.”
Others, such as Cellini, felt that Miller was forced out.
“The bottom line was that the people who took over would not recognize him as commissioner anymore,” said Cellini.
Several parents mentioned that at one time, the league discussed barring all three North Bergen teams – the lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight groups – from the playoffs.
“At one point there was a vote taken to expel North Bergen from the league,” said Nash. He said the vote “was only because they [North Bergen] weren’t answering us.”
He also said that the North Bergen teams then threatened to drop out of the league if Roy Miller resigned.
“They also stated verbally to me that if we didn’t allow this young player to play they would pull out all three teams,” added Nash. “So at that point, we needed a vote.”
Roy Miller did not return calls for comment.
North Bergen reacts
Following the decision by the league, parents and North Bergen officials were up in arms that the Red Raiders heavyweight team would be unable to participate in the playoffs.
“It’s just really sad that youth sports have come to this,” said Donna Puss, a grandmother of one of the athletes in the league. Puss also mentioned she found it unfair that the league reinstated the ineligible student, only to later deem those games losses.
“It’s just such a sad day when adults are so concerned about winning that they forget why they’re being coaches [in the first place],” added Puss. “Wins and losses are not won in court or arguments; they’re won on the field.”
“We don’t want to lose over pettiness,” continued Puss. “It’s just terrible, and my heart’s broken for these kids.”
“They’re ruining the dreams of these kids,” said Barbara Perez, a volunteer with the league.
Parent and North Bergen resident Jessica Rivera Castro had similar feelings.
“I think this was a bad decision,” said Castro. “Not just from the judge but from the coaches and parents that started all this. They didn’t have to take it to the point where kids would get hurt.”
Town spokesman Paul Swibinski argued that since the athlete was a student of North Bergen, registered in North Bergen, and lived in a North Bergen residence, he should have been allowed to play.
“It’s a bunch of adults who take this game way too seriously,” said Swibinski, “and who are tired of watching the Red Raiders win football games for four years.”
“We’re talking about one kid whose family ran into trouble and was living with relatives in North Bergen, and was going to school in North Bergen,” continued Swibinski. “It’s [disappointing] that they would go to these extraordinary lengths to finally get the Red Raiders out of the way.”
Nash defends league’s decision
Nash defended the board’s decision, stating that because North Bergen violated the bylaws, there was nothing that could be done.
“North Bergen quite frankly has to play by the same rules that everybody else plays by,” said Nash.
He said since the student was technically a Union City resident at the deadline, nothing could be done. He also mentioned that when North Bergen threatened to drop out of the league entirely, the board offered the vacant lightweight playoff slot to Union City and the middleweight playoff slot to Hoboken. After the judge ruled that only the heavyweight Red Raider team should be excluded from the playoffs, the board had to go back on their word and return the vacant slots to the Red Raiders.
“They [Hoboken and Union City] were supposed to get in the playoffs,” said Nash, “[until] North Bergen pulled all this legal stuff.”
“That’s unfair,” continued Nash. “The bottom line is that the actions of adults hurt all the kids. We’re volunteers, we’re coaches, and we’re doing the best we can do for kids.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.