They’re in, they’re out, they’re in, now out for good

Hudson Catholic withdraws application for re-admission to HCIAA

The ongoing saga between the administration at Hudson Catholic High School and the powers-that-be at the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association has apparently reached a sad and final ending.

The saga began last February, when Hudson Catholic announced that they were leaving the HCIAA because of the league’s ruling concerning a brawl during a basketball game between Hudson Catholic and Bayonne.

Then, seven months later, the school’s administration had a change of heart, realizing that membership in the HCIAA was the right way to go. So they sent a letter to the league, requesting readmission.

But now, since the HCIAA’s executive committee has informed the school of the penalty that will come with readmission, Brother Tim Ahern, the school’s principal, sent a letter back to the league that they have now decided to forego the process altogether.

So basically, Hudson Catholic is right back where it started last February – a school without a league. Beginning next year, Hudson Catholic will strictly play an independent schedule and will no longer be a member of the league that they have participated with since 1965, the school’s first competitive varsity athletic year.

What’s the reason for the wild roller coaster ride? Well, Ahern believes that Hudson Catholic did nothing wrong and doesn’t deserve the stiff sanctions that the HCIAA’s executive committee levied against them.

The league has ruled that Hudson Catholic has to pay a $2,500 fine, relinquish its voting privileges in the league for a full year, and the school’s teams would be placed on a one-year probation, which means that the school could not compete for a league title for that time period.

Ahern cannot abide by that penalty.

“Absolutely not,” Ahern said. “I was led to believe that the HCIAA would like Hudson Catholic back in the league and we were willing to listen. Technically, we were not out of the league yet, so I don’t understand why there has to be a penalty. If I thought for any minute that there was going to be a penalty with it, I never would have agreed to it. It’s simply not acceptable. I thought it was vindictive. We didn’t nothing wrong to be penalized.”

Michael Venutolo, the executive secretary and chief of the HCIAA, believes that the penalty was fair, and in fact, was toned down from the original penalty in order to help Hudson Catholic. Originally, the executive committee called for a $5,000 fine and a two-year probation.

“Everyone wanted them to come back,” Venutolo said. “We tried to work things out. I think the penalty was within the guidelines of the HCIAA and the NJSIAA. We tried to rationalize with them, but it doesn’t seem to work. It’s really unfortunate. We regret it and wish them well and wish them success.”

Ahern said that he was upset with the penalty, because there was nothing in the league’s constitution about penalties for schools leaving the league, then seeking readmission.

“Where does it state in the constitution that there has to be a penalty?” Ahern said. “The penalty, including the fine, is arbitrary. I don’t like the fact that they’ve decided to penalize us. Their own constitution says that no fine should be in excess of $500. We’re getting fined more and we didn’t violate any by-laws. I still say that we did nothing wrong and our kids are suffering. I know I’m 100 percent right. I have everything documented.”

Ahern was still befuddled by the penalty.

“I wish they would tell me what’s going on here,” Ahern said. “This is not a revolving door. Are they trying to make a point with us? I mean, I read the rules and regulations. They have to tell me where we did wrong. I totally disagree with the penalties and the fines. If they think that’s what has to be, then tell me. I’m all ears. I’m willing to listen to them.”

Ahern said that he made a personal appeal to the HCIAA’s executive committee in October.

“When I went to the executive committee, I went in person, making a personal appeal,” Ahern said. “I said that since we were a member and remained a member, that we shouldn’t be penalized.”

However, Venutolo disputed those claims, stating that Ahern has never spoken to a league member in person. “He should have been there,” Venutolo said. “He was not there. If he wanted an explanation, he should have been at the meeting. We heard that they were upset about the penalties and the probation and we clarified the probation. But he wasn’t there.”

Ahern said that there is a chance that the school might take the matter to the NJSIAA, which oversees all high school sports in the state. However, in cases like this, the NJSIAA generally informs the leagues to work out matters amongst themselves – that the NJSIAA usually does not rule on league matters.

“If they’re trying to send a message to me, then that’s not fair,” Ahern said. “I was led to believe that they wanted us back and now they’ve reconsidered. I find the whole thing to be very vindictive. No one is commenting, and no one is answering my questions.”

Venutolo said that the whole thing is a moot point now, because in the eyes of the HCIAA, Hudson Catholic is out.

“If the entire league voted on it, then they could have appealed to the executive committee, but since they withdrew their application for readmission before the vote, then we’re not voting on it now,” Venutolo said. “It’s dead. All appeals are null and void. They have nowhere to go. It would be very difficult to appeal it now.”

Harsh result

From a personal standpoint, I believe that the penalty was too severe. I believe that there should be a penalty, because you can’t have a school simply changing its mind over and over with no recourse. But to hand the school a year’s probation is way harsh.

Why penalize kids who had nothing to do with the decision in the first place? Sure, hit the school with a fine. Take away voting privileges, which is basically a complete moot point, because the majority of the block of votes reside in the Jersey City public schools – and they all do what Venutolo tells them to do anyway.

But to tell kids that they can’t compete for a league championship because of something a principal did or a league decides? That’s way wrong.

Let’s take it a step further. How many Hudson Catholic teams have legitimate chances of winning a league championship? I’d say one.

As good as the football team has become almost overnight, they don’t stand a chance of winning the league title. The soccer team has won the title in the past, but they’ve fallen off considerably in the last two years. The basketball team has made strides under coach Steve Ricciardi, but even Ricciardi would admit that winning an HCIAA title would be somewhat of a pipe dream.

So it boils down to this: The lone team that has a legitimate shot of winning an HCIAA crown is the Hudson Catholic baseball team, the same team that had a league title ripped away from them last year by a ridiculous umpire’s call, one that will go down in history as a “grounds-rule grand slam.”

That happened last May, when a ball that clearly bounced over the fence was declared a grand slam homer, giving Memorial a 4-2 win in the title game.

Now, those same kids are getting shortchanged again with this silly probation – and that’s a damn shame.

However, Ahern did not feel that any penalty would be fair – meaning anything, the fine, the voting privileges or the probation. He insists that any or all of the ruling meant that he was not going to continue with the application process.

I personally feel that Hudson Catholic should have swallowed the fine, shut up about the voting rights, and accepted that part of the penalty, but they should have appealed to have the probation lifted. The HCIAA should have made a written stipulation that if Hudson Catholic ever threatened to leave the league again, then they would be gone for good.

Venutolo said that might have been a consideration, if Ahern and the Hudson Catholic administration wanted to discuss the matter. Now, it’s a moot point. It’s over.

And that’s a shame, because Hudson Catholic belongs in the HCIAA. It’s going to be a royal pain in the rear to find games as an independent. Football scheduling will be next to impossible.

Plus, the kids will now only compete for state championships. Other than the hockey team (which won the state title in 2000, but does not compete in the HCIAA), the last time Hudson Catholic actually played in a state championship game was 1976, when the basketball team featured a kid by the name of Mike O’Koren.

This is a mistake all the way around. Hudson Catholic belongs in the league, and the league should have accepted them back, as long as a decent penalty was into place, not the unfair one that was instituted and apparently pushed Hudson Catholic back out of the HCIAA’s front door.


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