One of the top teams in New Jersey found itself without an opponent on Friday night after a late cancellation due to a rather unusual reason: Player safety.
It's not that the highly ranked Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep football program had superior equiment and resources than the Kearny (N.J.) High squad, though that very well may have been the case. Rather, as noted by the Newark Star-Ledger, Kearny simply felt that St. Peter's was too skilled for it to succeed in the game, deciding that it was better off absorbing a forfeit instead of trying to fight a losing, undermanned battle that could lead to player injuries.
"The Board of Education and the superintendent made a decision not to play the game for safety concerns," Kearny athletic director John Millar told the Star-Ledger. "I was informed by the superintendent this morning that I should call St. Peter's and cancel.
"Let's face it, we are extreme opposites in terms of competitiveness. They're very good and our program is not. There was concern over potential for injuries. And if we had too many players injured today, there was a question about going forward with the rest of our season and whether we would be able to play it or finish it."
To put the vast difference in skill between St. Peter's and Kearny in perspective, just take a quick look at the two programs' numbers: Kearny would have entered Friday's game with a record of 0-2, and being outscored by an aggregate 90-8 across its two losses. St. Peter's was 2-0, winning both of its previous games by scores of 31-6 and 77-7. Both of those victories were on the road, out of state, against highly regarded foes.
So, in short, Friday's matchup would have pit a 2-0 squad entering with an aggregate score of 108-13 against an 0-2 team with an aggregate score of 8-90. It's understandable why Kearny's superintendent, Ron Bolandi, would have been concerned about his school's safety, both physical and mental.
Still, the decision to call off the game at the 11th hour angered St. Peter's officials and players for a variety of reasons, none more striking than the simple fact that they had been told it would go ahead as scheduled a matter of days before. According to the Star-Ledger, Millar called St. Peter's football coach Rich Hansen on Sept. 17 to confirm that Friday's game would go ahead as scheduled. Five days later, the game was canceled with the justification of Kearny's fear of a "inability to compete."
The game is almost certain to be ruled a forfeit, but that hasn't been a wholly satisfying result for Hansen, who could earn his 200th career victory with the stroke of a pen if the game is officially forfeited, or the team he leads.
"I feel badly for our kids, having prepared all week for the game," Hansen said. "We knew it wasn't going to be a competitive game, but we were going to try to play our younger kids. And we don't want to just have a forfeit victory this week. We're looking for a team to play. It really would have been to our advantage to have found out [about the cancellation] earlier in the week. It would have been easier to find a game."
Interestingly, St. Peter's Prep isn't the first school to have to deal with opponents pulling out because of a fear of players being unable to withstand an opponent. In 2010, St. George's (R.I.) School canceled a matchup against fellow Independent School League member Lawrence (Mass.) Academy, citing a concern about player safety. In St. George's case, the school was explicitly concerned about the size of St. Lawrence players compared to the ones St. George's planned to put on the field.
That forfeit later led to other schools crying out against a Lawrence Academy program some felt had run amok of the elite standards set by the ISL. It seems unlike a similar fate would befall St. Peter's in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association, a league which is home to both St. Peter's and Kearny, though one can never be sure.
After all, who would have dreamed that a 45-member squad would forfeit a game because of player safety and an inability to compete just hours before kickoff?
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