Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Elizabeth Mayor Calls Jersey Officials ‘Fascists’ for Videotaping Kids; Hearing Moved to Friday
In a story that is getting wilder and wilder by the day, The Star-Ledger reported late Monday night that former troubled NBA star Chris Washburn turned Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick into the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association for holding illegal preseason practices and that the NJSIAA used a retired former state trooper to videotape those practices and to follow players home after school to verify their addresses.
The Controversies Committee of the NJSIAA has recommended that defending Tournament of Champions winner St. Patrick be suspended from the upcoming state tournament and that head coach Kevin Boyle face a three-game suspension. The program would also be placed on probation for two years.
Steve Timko, the executive director of the NJSIAA, told me in a phone interview that he could not comment on the case but that the hearing before the NJSIAA Executive Committee had been pushed to Friday from Wednesday because of the looming snow storm.
“The meeting is not tomorrow [Wednesday]. It’s on Friday at 11 a.m.,” Timko said by phone.
Timko also said the initial report by the Controversies Committee would be made public at that time, but not before.
St. Patrick is also scheduled to face Oak Hill (Va.) Academy Friday night at Kean University.
Washburn’s two basketball-playing sons, Chris and Julian, briefly attended St. Patrick in September, but then left the school because they were “struggling academically,” according to Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage. The boys are now back at Duncanville (Texas) High, where they played last year.
“Chris Washburn did call the NJSIAA because his ex-wife and the two sons relocated to New Jersey,” Bollwage said in a phone interview. “I don’t know how he got the name of the NJSIAA. He got it from somebody involved in New Jersey high school sports.
“He made the call to the NJSIAA while the kids were enrolled and while they were struggling academically and eventually they had to leave because academically it was not working out for them.”
The NJSIAA secretly videotaped six open gyms at St. Patrick in October.Boyle was present at the open gyms, as were various college coaches, including Kentucky coach John Calipari and coaches from Seton Hall, according to the Ledger.
High schools in New Jersey were not allowed to hold organized practices prior to Nov. 27, although open gyms are common.
“We had several open gyms prior to the season – that was the accusation,” Boyle told MaxPreps.com late Saturday night. “It has to go to another committee to decide if it’s overturned or if they agree with the penalty.
“The NJSIAA rules are extremely vague,” Bollwage added. “If the coach is inside the [gym] it’s a violation. But if he’s in the principal’s room, it’s not a violation.”
Asked where Boyle was for these open gyms, Bollwage said: “I think he was in the doorway.”
Bollwage said he had no problem with Boyle facing a suspension but thinks the players, including Duke-bound senior point guard Kyrie Irving and star junior Michael Gilchrist, are being unfairly targeted.
“The penalty should be a suspension of the coach or the athletic director, but these kids should be allowed to play in the state tournament,” he said. “These kids are coming from an urban environment. The opportunity to go to college and to showcase their talent in the state tournament is important for their future.
“For a group of bureaucrats to secretly videotape and record and follow kids home to find out where they live, it shocks me as an American.”
The Ledger reported that the NJSIAA found no wrongdoing in terms of the addresses listed with the state.
Still, Bollwage said it was “fascistic” of the state to tape the workouts and the players in the first place.
“The issue that really bothers me as the Mayor is that they have secretly videotaped and followed high school athletes,” he said. “I find that absolutely outrageous in a democratic country. What happens if this was a girls team and the NJSIAA sent a retired state trooper to videotape the girls and follow them home?
“Where does this fascist organization get the right to videotape high school boys that are not involved in any criminal activity by the way? All they’re doing is playing in an open gymnasium.”
Bollwage vowed to fight the state’s penalty and to do everything possible to allow St. Patrick to play in the state tournament.
“If I can play a role to make sure the kids play basketball then I would interject myself,” he said. “If I have to file suit in any way, shape or form or to seek a stay of the Committee’s decision I’ll do whatever I can
“I’ll do whatever I can to let these kids play basketball in the state tournament.”
Competing in the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational could be an option if the state tournament is not, but an ESPN spokesman said only schools cleared by their state organizations were allowed to compete.
“Before we will even approach a school we have to know that the state association or the governing body will allow them to play in the games,” ESPN’s Crystal Howard said. “If they don’t say that schools in their governance could play in our games, we won’t even consider going against those rulings and actually select or invite.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.