NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On Friday, the New Brunswick High School (NBHS) Zebras football team was 4-0 before losing to North Brunswick that night.
But by Tuesday, media outlets were reporting that the Zebras were now 0-5 after accusations that the team used an ineligible player, turning their season upside-down.
Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) President Jeff Dicocco told MyCentralJersey.com’s Greg Tufaro that the player in question transferred to New Brunswick High School without a “bona fide address change” and did not sit out the first 30 days of the season.
Though no final decision has been made, DiCocco is pushing for all four of the Zebras’ wins, including one over Edison High School, where he is Athletic Director, to be overturned. If he is successful, the change would give his Edison Eagles their lone win this year.
But probably most upsetting potential forfeit for Zebras football fans is the one that could overturn their major upset over their neighbors to the north, Piscataway.
On September 27, New Brunswick snapped Piscataway’s 17-game winning streak in a matchup that attracted hometown hero and two-time Super Bowl Champion, former Zebra football star Jonathan Casillas.
Casillas, after graduating from NBHS went on to star at the University of Wisconsin and played professionally, winning Super Bowls with the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots before retiring with the New York Giants.
But, two weeks later, news broke that the Zebras had allegedly violated rules by using an ineligible player to start the season, specifically running afoul of Article II, Section 5-K(2) of the bylaws of the NJ State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA).
According to the organization, their eligibility rules are “aimed at preventing athletic recruitment of promising athletes by member schools or a transfer by a student or by his or her parents to another school for athletic advantages.”
But many parents and fans are upset that these accusations are only coming to light after the fact, and some are concerned about the impact that strict enforcement of this rule may have on the promising Zebra athletes and their shots at college recruitment.
“This can affect how colleges look at the players and several other things NONE of those kids deserve,” said Monica Rivera, the mother of the allegedly ineligible player.
The Zebras already kissed that beautiful undefeated season goodbye with their loss, but the latest development has dealt another blow to the perfect beginning of the Zebras’ 2019 season.
This was the Zebras best start since 2015, when they went 9-2, which was also the last time the team had a winning season.
Hopes were high for Zebras this year, but are now severely diminished as the team’s playoffs chances are slim to none at this point.
Jeff DiCocco, the conference president, has not responded to multiple requests for a clarification of NJSIA’s bylaws. According to Rivera, DiCocco hung up the phone when contacted by superintendent Aubrey Johnson as the story unfolded.
Rivera jokingly refers to herself as a “helicopter mom” and, since her son’s transfer to New Brunswick High School in February, she repeatedly asked about his eligibility.
Rivera shared emails with New Brunswick Today showing that she asked multiple people, including NBHS Athletics Director Craig Lowery, to confirm her son’s eligibility to play as the season approached.
“I have submitted the transfer forms to [the student’s former school] and they signed off and sent to NJSIAA,” Lowery told Ms. Rivera via email on July 16 at 2:41 pm. “I have not heard from them so Im going to say that it is safe to say he will be eligible effective immediately.”
Superintendent Aubrey Johnson has not responded yet to request for comment.
“According to the district, they sent forms to both schools, transfer forms back and forth, and notified NJSIAA,” said George Hendricks, the Board of Education’s attorney.
“And then it was a question of whether, under those circumstances, he was eligible to… play or not. They never, I guess, found that out.”
The Zebras play the 1-4 Sayreville Bombers on October 10, but it’s unclear what the Zebras record will be going into the game.
The NJSIAA did not immediately respond to an emailed request for the status of the alleged violation. According to one journalist, they organization had “no comment yet” about the situation.
Hendricks told New Brunswick Today he filed a formal request for a waiver under the rule as of October 10.