Superintendent of Schools Peter Fischbach confirmed that the Board of Education has decided not to continue with any legal matters regarding the transfer of juniors Mawel Soler and Paul Williams.
Soler and Williams suddenly left North Bergen High in March and enrolled two days later at St. Patrick's of Elizabeth, soon after the North Bergen basketball season was over, but not before St. Patrick's had completed play in the NJSIAA state playoffs.
The pair of talented players was seated on the St. Patrick's bench, wearing a St. Patrick's sweater and tie, during the St. Patrick's-St. Anthony game at St. Peter's College's Yanitelli Center for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Parochial B North championship.
Although the controversial transfer appeared to be tainted, with the idea that Soler and Williams were recruited out of North Bergen and into St. Patrick's, Fischbach said that Board of Education officials decided not to pursue the matter in court.
"We have not filed anything legally before the state association (the NJSIAA), nor do we plan to," Fischbach said. "Our board attorney, Joseph Ryglicki, recommended that we not pursue the matter legally. At the present time, we feel that it's a dead issue. After discussing the matter with the coaches and the athletic director, we felt it was not in our best interests to pursue the matter."
Fischbach's announcement that North Bergen would not pursue the matter comes on the heels of the NJSIAA's ruling last week that two former Passaic County Tech basketball players illegally transferred to Paterson Catholic for "athletic advantage," making the students ineligible to play at their new school.
Former Passaic Tech players Darryl Watkins and Collin Bailey were ruled ineligible to play for the 2001-2002 season because of their transfer from one school to the next.
According to NJSIAA rules, a student may enroll at the public school in their district or at a private school, but after they have entered school, they may not transfer for athletic reasons.
The NJSIAA's eligibility appeals committee determined that Watkins and Bailey did enroll at Paterson Catholic for athletic reasons, thus the harsh ruling.
It appeared as if Soler and Williams did the same thing when they left North Bergen in late February and enrolled - together - at St. Patrick's one week later.
St. Patrick's school officials declined to comment on the transfer. Head basketball coach Kevin Boyle insisted that the two students enrolled at the school on their own free will and were not recruited to attend the school. However, the North Bergen case has become somewhat different in two instances. For one, Williams' family has moved from North Bergen to Jersey City.
"Once the boy moved to Jersey City, his case became a moot point," Fischbach said. "Once he moved, it was taken out of our hands. We sent a letter to the principal of the school [St. Patrick's] and informed him [Joseph Picaro] that we were not happy with the way these students were plucked out of our school and able to enroll in their school, without even a warning first."
The other reason the case is not being pursued further is that Soler is reportedly disenchanted at St. Patrick's and wants to come back to North Bergen. However, if Soler does in fact enroll once again in North Bergen, he may find himself academically ineligible to play, due to the fact that he will not have completed enough credits to matriculate into his senior year of high school.
Soler and Williams were the two best players on North Bergen's varsity last year. The 6-5 Soler averaged 17 points per game, and the 6-9 Williams averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds per game. They are both considered to be among the top 20 returning players in the state and will more than likely be showcased in several upcoming summer camps, including the ABCD Camp at Fairleigh Dickinson University, which begins Monday.
Fischbach was asked if the reluctance to pursue the matter legally in the eyes of the state's high school sports' governing body would be perceived as giving into to the evils of high school recruiting.
"I definitely think a message has been sent," Fischbach said. "The message is that you don't go after North Bergen student/athletes. We were ready to pursue this in court and ready to prove that we would provide a better education for all of our students, especially the two young men in question."
One of the players has been classified as a special needs student and the other one requires special education. Parochial schools do not offer specific courses of study geared toward such classified students.
"I don't think we're worried about the perception of what we did," Fischbach said. "We're not going to pursue this case because we didn't think it was necessary. Every case has to be treated individually, so we would certainly look at other transfer cases in the future. But this one is dead for now."