New NJSIAA council gives high school student athletes a voice

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Sean Furlong is a two-sport sophomore at Midland Park High School. He’s a soccer team goalie that’s kicking around some rule changes in his head.

“Regular-season games finish in draws. Yes, it happens in Major League Soccer and stuff, but I think it would be more exciting with PK’s in the regular season,” he said.

PKs are penalty kicks. They’re among the ideas adults in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association want to hear from high school student athletes. Furlong and 30 high school counterparts across the state are ambassadors of the newly formed Student Athlete Advisory Council. They’re the liaison between the council and the association and will advise the adults not just about play, but about study, as well.

“There’s also this rule that they’re trying to get that if you play two varsity sports, you get to skip gym and have a free period so you can work on your homework and study, so that way you don’t have to do gym, which you’re already doing exercise and stuff, after school,” said Furlong. “The students [proposed the idea]. Some schools already have it. We’re trying to get it in every school.”

Two-sport classmate Ben Schaefer sits on the council. It consists of one scholastic athlete from each of the association’s 125 member schools.

“I think it’s a great idea considering that the students are the ones actually participating in the sports. I think it’s right that they should have a say,” he said.

Schaefer and Furlong attended the association’s annual meeting and collected ballots on several issues, giving them a feel for the nonprofit that governs high school sports.

“It’s really time for us to get in front of the student athletes more and get them involved in our association,” said NJSIAA Director of Finance Colleen Maguire.

That’s what Maguire concluded last year after hearing from students about revisions to the NJSIAA’s transgender policy. Maguire then initiated the council by getting applicants to write essays and more. She and a panel selected 31 ambassadors out of 145 students. Maguire says the competition for time, for play, and for life is more intense now than when she starred in high school basketball in the 90s.

“They realize they’re overtaxed, they’re overstressed, they’re overtired. They need the opportunities to scale back a little bit in some areas of their life,” she said. “You should talk to some of these kids that you’re going to meet today. Some of them just blow us away. We’re like, wow, they are so much more in tune and aware. I think my generation and above just think that all they care about is their Instagram and social media and they’re staring at their phones all the time. But it’s like, wow, they actually know what’s going on around them. That’s been eye-opening, I think, to everyone in our office. It’s like these kids want to have a voice, they want to have a say.”

Maguire says there’s no pushback from the association’s adults who agree New Jersey’s 280,000 student athletes should have a say.

Fort Lee High School is one of the schools with a student ambassador. Fort Lee High School athletic director Michael Raftery says he fully embraces the idea.

“We just get another perspective. The athletic directors are giving our point of view, but getting the point of view from the student athletes has a lot of benefits because they’re in it every day. They’re involved in the decisions that we’re making, it directly affects them,” said Raftery.

Bordentown Regional High School athletic director Ernie Covington says kids today deserve credit.

“I think now with so much technology these kids are smarter than us in certain aspects and we need to acknowledge that. I think it’s great that we’re having their input on it,” said Covington.

Furlong says he hopes the end result will be to make some changes and make life easier for high school athletes.