Can’t tell the players without a program
Transfers cloud Hudson County loyalty, hurts parity
A year ago at this time, prospects looked good at Emerson High School, thanks to the arrival of Harold Bautista, a transfer from close rival Union Hill, and the emergence of Emerson junior Manny Suriel, a sharpshooter supreme.
And a year ago at this time, things looked pretty good at North Bergen, where the Bruins had two promising juniors and top college prospects Mawel Soler and Paul Williams.
In fact, things looked so promising for North Bergen that head coach John Barone was already gearing toward the 2001-2002 season, knowing that the talented Soler and Williams would be able to guide the Bruins to state prominence.
And Emerson would be in fine shape, knowing full well that the talented Suriel would be returning for another season. All three players earned All-Area honors from the Hudson Reporter last year. Things looked promising for both local teams.
Or so it seemed.
A funny thing happened on the way to respectability. Sometimes the best laid plans get ruined by a single dirty word. Transfer.
Transfer is simply a worse curse word than any four-letter profanity heard in a schoolyard or bar room.
Nowadays, athletes change high schools the way most people change their underwear. There is no such thing as school loyalty, school pride anymore. If something goes wrong for a kid, like a coach gives a dirty look or a teacher hands out a detention slip, then he or she instantly heads to another school. It’s as simple as that.
"Hey, I can’t play for him anymore," the kid thinks. "He doesn’t play me for the entire game and won’t have my brand of Gatorade for the post-game drink."
So the player listens to the words of some know-it-all clown who disguises himself with a title like a "family advisor" or a "guardian," who tells the kid to leave, and then the kid hightails it to the next school who will listen to his song.
Emerson thought it would have the services of Suriel for another year. No such thing. Suriel apparently ran into some difficulty at Emerson last spring and was dismissed from the school during the summer months for disciplinary reasons.
It was believed that Suriel was first going to enroll at Passaic Valley, but as the current basketball season began, Suriel was somehow on the roster at neighboring Memorial.
And now, Suriel is averaging close to 18 points per game for the Tigers – without ever having to miss a single game due to the NJSIAA’s transfer rule.
There’s a rule that is supposed to prohibit a transfer student from playing immediately for his or her new school. The transfer rule forces the player to sit out the first 30 days of the new season.
However, there’s a stipulation. The player doesn’t have to miss any time if there has been a change of address. He has given a West New York address. He’s playing for Memorial – and recently he scored 20 points to lead Memorial to a victory over none other than Emerson.
I respect Memorial coach Wilson Rodriguez so much and he’s done such a phenomenal job as the head coach there that his actions don’t need my praise. But how can Rodriguez look Emerson coach Drew Morano in the face after accepting Suriel as a prodigal son? Especially when Suriel’s problems at Emerson were so widely recognized.
In the case of Soler and Williams, they were hijacked out of North Bergen High School last March – only a week after the Bruins’ season was over. They somehow miraculously ended up sitting on the bench of St. Patrick’s of Elizabeth while St. Pat’s faced St. Anthony in the NJSIAA Parochial B North finals.
Yes, hijacked is the proper term. Someone had to take both students by the hand and lead them to their new promised land. Oops, make that a new land of promises.
And the talented pair of former Bruins are now playing for their new school, helping to lead St. Patrick’s to victories while North Bergen, a team once with so much promise, is left to endure a 3-6 campaign thus far.
It’s downright sickening.
This is high school basketball here. Not college. Not the pros. Yet, the kids are being treated like pieces of meat, being recruited, lured, hijacked, swayed to leave one school and go to another without missing a beat.
There’s no way that Suriel should be playing for Memorial.
And there’s no way that Soler and Williams should be playing for St. Pat’s.
But they are. And it’s wrong. Way wrong.
The sad thing about it is that there really isn’t anything that can be done to stop it, to prevent it. Sure, there are rules and regulations, but even those rules can be circumvented for the pursuit of a few victories.
In these cases, winning happens to be everything.