NJSIAA announces realignment plan Puts all of Hudson County’s schools together, but eliminates leagues and conferences

If the realignment plan that was released by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Wednesday is voted upon and adopted in a few weeks by the entire association (which is anticipated), then leagues like the HCIAA and the BSCL, initials that have dominated the local sports scenes for decades, will become things of the past.

The NJSIAA released its realignment plan Wednesday and it essentially puts all of Hudson County’s high schools in two divisions, the Super Conference 2 Division C, featuring the schools with the Group IV and Group III enrollments and the Super Conference 2 Division E, featuring all the other smaller schools, like Group II and Group I enrollments.

But what it does do is eliminate the two leagues that have become part of Hudson County’s sports fabric, the HCIAA and the BCSL, where Secaucus and Weehawken have been staples for decades.

“I realize the state had to do something,” Weehawken athletic director Rich Terpak said. “But we’re not happy. We’re very happy in the BCSL [National]. It’s a great league with great facilities. We’ve built up great relationships over the years and we’ve had no problems with scheduling in the league. We’ve been able to compete and have good competition. It’s the whole nine yards. We’ve been involved with the BCSL for a long time now and it’s going to be difficult to break up those relationships that have been developed over time.

Added Terpak, “I don’t like it, but I guess I don’t have too much choice in this matter. We’re in a good situation and I would hate like heck to have to see it end.”

Rich Myrlak, who is the athletic coordinator for the Hudson County Schools of Technology, incorporating both County Prep in Jersey City and High Tech in North Bergen, believes that the realignment might be a good thing for local high school sports.

“It provides us with a network of schools of similar size right here in Hudson County,” Myrlak said. “It’s a good thing for us and it’s good that all the Hudson County schools are included together. It would be worse if we would have been broken up.”

But what about the HCIAA as we knew it?

“Will the HCIAA be the same? No, it can’t be,” Myrlak said. “But it can evolve into perhaps something better. This brings everyone in the county under one umbrella. I think everyone in our division should sit down and talk about the future. I bet we come up with some good ideas. I think this will make the county organization stronger, with all of the schools having the same common goal.”

Tom Lalicato, the athletic director at St. Mary’s of Jersey City, has always been a proponent of division by enrollment.

“So I think the state did a fine job in doing that,” said Lalicato, who will be in the new Division E of the Super Conference 2. “It gives us all a built-in schedule in every sport. We won’t have to worry about games. So on that level, I’m very happy. They also kept Hudson County intact and that’s great, including Secaucus, Weehawken, and Harrison.”

But Lalicato was also a little skeptical about the plan.

“They really didn’t do anything to address the public-parochial separation that was the reason why all of this started,” Lalicato said. “They didn’t do anything to solve the dilemma.”

Lalicato also said that the HCIAA could survive as an organization despite the realignment.

“The HCIAA has some good people,” Lalicato said. “Maybe the HCIAA now has to change and become something different. Maybe we can put our heads together and become an organization with a new theme and purpose. We can look at having a true county tournament. We can look to honor our scholar/athletes more. The state will predicate on all other rules. We can actually can grow and become better.”

How about the bigger schools? Rich Hansen is the athletic director and football coach at powerful St. Peter’s Prep. Although Hansen wasn’t a proponent for change, he was a member of the realignment committee (along with Rob Stern of Hudson Catholic).

“We met for a long time and spent a lot of time putting this together,” Hansen said. “I think it’s the most logical compromise. Sure, there are going to be problems with it, but this was definitely the most logical. It provides competitive balance. It provides safety and structure. With everything we came across on the committee, this made the most sense.”

Hansen did express some regrets about the apparent demise of the HCIAA.

“I played in the league and coached in the league,” Hansen said. “With all of our tarnishing and blemishes, it’s still a good lead. Nostalgically, you have to accept change if change is going to happen.”

Dickinson athletic director Rich Nesbit said that the realignment will change the face of the Jersey City public schools, because his school and Ferris will be in Division C, while fellow sister schools Lincoln and Snyder will reside in Division E.

“Honestly, it’s going to force the Jersey City schools to evaluate their programs in order to compete,” Nesbit said. “Personally, I think it’s going to be a challenge for all the programs at Dickinson in order to compete. It’s really going to sink or swim for us. There will be some pretty intense competition in all sports. I don’t know if I’m upset with the realignment, because I think we’ll be able to keep some of our rivalries with our sister schools in terms of independent games. But realistically, I’m one for change and part of me strongly wants to see the change and see the adjustments. I think we’re moving ahead.”

The NJSIAA will vote on the proposal in September with the hope of having it implemented for a two-year trial run beginning in September 2009.

“We had to do something,” Hansen said. “If none of this works, then we’ll have to go to the next step.”

Which would mean the possible formation of a strictly All-Parochial statewide league in New Jersey in the future.

First things first. The new NJSIAA proposal has to go into effect and see how it works. It will definitely change the face of local high school sports in the near future. – Jim Hague