Paterson Case Highlights Overseas Students Playing High School Sports

By Brenda Flanagan

Paterson Eastside fields a formidable basketball team. The 14 and 3 Ghosts looked set to score a top North Jersey seed in this season’s state tournament brackets. Then, scandal: NJ Advance Media reported six students from overseas — three from Nigeria, three from Puerto Rico — play for the Ghosts, that at least five of them live with Eastside Coach Juan Griles and one resides with Assistant Coach Alberto Maldonado. Residents in this city of immigrants gave mixed reactions.

“Actually, I really don’t think it’s fair, especially if we have good kids in our school and then somebody else comes in from a different country and knocks our kids back. No, that’s not fair,” said Sharlene Jacobs.

“It don’t bother me, really,” said Dutch Canning. “Everybody deserves freedom and a chance in life. Do whatever they want.”

The rules state, “No more than four international students placed by a sponsor will be eligible for participation in the interscholastic athletic program of a member school. No more than two … may represent a high school in the same sport,” according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. Sports insiders like author George Dorhmann call international kids a sports commodity.

“It’s a wild west, right? There’s no one saying, ‘Hey you can’t pull five kids from Africa and bring them here.’ Most often what happens is these kids get brought here by some middle men and they end up with a coach of some sort, right?” Dorhmann said.

Observers claim private high schools routinely enroll international players, but public schools — not so much. And it’s supposed to benefit the kids. Recruiting’s illegal. The five students reportedly living here with Griles in his Paterson condo allegedly complained he fed them spaghetti for two weeks straight.

“Everybody knew it, obviously. And nobody talked and said, ‘Hey, let’s investigate this?’ Outrageous,” said Sen. Dick Codey. “There’s a lot of people doing this illegally. But at this level? This is beyond the pale.”

Former governor and kids basketball coach Codey wants the prosecutor to look into it.

“It’s all about who can make us win basketball games. Flat out. It’s wrong, and it’s got to be stopped, somehow, some way,” he said.

Paterson’s school district reacted by suspending Griles with pay and Maldonado without pay while an independent investigator looks at the students’ legal paperwork and living arrangements, noting, “…the district takes this matter very seriously especially as it pertains to the well-being of our students.” Griles was unavailable for comment.

Maldonado’s attorney told us his client’s done nothing wrong, that he has legal custody of the player living with him who’s his godson from Puerto Rico. He said this has ruined Maldonado’s reputation. He wants his client’s good name restored.

The state Division of Child Protection is also investigating. Meanwhile, the whole team’s facing an uncertain future. With possibly ineligible players, the Ghosts could end up ghosting the tournament — disqualified. The NJSIAA will decide.