By Brenda Flanagan
The 2001 Little League World Series featured a Bronx player with blazing 70 mile per hour fastballs that blew past every batter.
Sports experts said they had never seen a 12-year-old who could pitch that hard. It turns out Danny Almonte was actually 14. Can a year or two matter that much in a young athlete’s performance?
“At that age one year’s difference is tremendous,” said Senator Richard Codey.
Codey’s against so-called “redshirting” — where parents deliberately hold kids back a grade to gain athletic advantage.
“He’s in the sixth grade — the parents decide he’ll be a great athlete, and to help him they’ll hold him back, which gives him physical maturity over the other kids,” Codey said. “But it’s wrong. It’s cheating. It’s gaming the system.”
Codey’s sponsored a bill that would penalize redshirting by making kids who repeat sixth, seventh or eighth grades — despite being academically proficient — eligible for only three consecutive years of high school sports. But many coaches object, saying redshirting is an accepted practice nationwide.
“I think that it is a reality. I think that a lot of people are doing it now. I’ve never seen it harm a kid,” said Nunzio Campanile.
Campanile coaches football at Bergen Catholic High School, and says he’s coached about 50 redshirts over his career. He complains the media’s made one of his star players the poster boy for redshirting. It’s Josh McKenzie, who deliberately repeated eighth grade, paying thousands extra to do it at a private academy. He was recruited by several top sports high schools before choosing Bergen Catholic — 70 miles away from his family.
“I don’t think they’re gaming the system. I think they’re doing what’s best for their kid, Campanile said. “I don’t think most people are making that decision based strictly on athletics, and if they are they’re making a huge mistake. I’ve seen a lot of kids over the last 15 years do it, and I think socially, academically and athletically it usually works out for those kids.”
“I would not label it as cheating. I would label it as athletic deception,” said Charlie Maher.
Maher, a sports performance psychologist says families often redshirt an apparently promising child, hoping it will lead to college scholarships and pro-sports careers. He says many top athletes did redshirt along the way, but at what cost?
“Parents are going to have a rationale that this is for the best interest of my child, my child likes sports, la la la. But I have questions about that, more often than not. Even if it’s not that widespread it’s cause for concern: morally, ethically and educationally,” he said.
“This isn’t a political issue This is a parent’s personal decision of what’s best for their child,” said Campanile.
When asked if it gets them a free ride to college, Codey said, “It may. It may not. In any event what you’re telling that child is cheat.”
Codey says he thinks the measure to ban redshirting is a winning bipartisan play. He’s just not sure whether Governor Christie will throw a penalty veto flag.