Update: NJ Legislation Advances to Protect HS Coaches

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A pair of New Jersey state legislators are seeking to provide public high school coaches with some stability.

As reported by The Press of Atlantic City, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Bergen/Passaic, and Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, introduced bills last month that would require varsity head coaches to receive three-year contracts and assistant coaches two-year contracts.

Currently, coaches are appointed by their respective Boards of Education on a year-by-year basis.

The Assembly Education Committee advanced Wimberly’s legislation last month in a 10-0 vote with one abstention. The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to conduct a hearing this fall.

“I think it’s a major protection for coaches when it comes to being unjustly fired,” Wimberly, who is also head football coach at Hackensack High School, said in a statement.

Related: New Jersey Bill Aims to Protect High School Coaches 

“In many cases, guys are being fired because they didn’t play a school board member’s child, or a [student-athlete] didn’t play a position they wanted to play, so you have parents go to the school board and make an issue out of it.”

A few local coaches have been involved in similar controversies over the years.

Last November, the Atlantic City Board of Education voted not to reappoint boys' basketball coach Gene Allen after a parent of a former player complained about a text message Allen had sent to the 2017-18 team that indicated the Vikings did not deserve a postseason banquet.

Allen, Atlantic City’s coach since 2003, had guided the Vikings to three state championships — the first titles in program history — during his tenure.

He filed suit seeking to get his job back, and Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Michael Blee reinstated him just days before last season.

Allen, who has pending litigation against the Board of Education, declined to comment on the proposed bill Wednesday.

“If the goal [of the bills] is to prevent parents from complaining, it’s not going to help much,” Absegami athletic director Steve Fortis said. “You can give coaches lifetime contracts and it won’t stop it.”

“Putting high school games on TV is the worst thing that could have happened because it gives parents false hope,” said Middle Township football coach Frank Riggitano, who is also the school’s former principal. “We’ve been lucky enough to see some of our kids go on to play college football, but for 90% of them, their careers are ending after high school. It’s our job as coaches to make sure they get the most out of their high school careers.”

Riggitano, who is in his 19th season, was quick to point out he’s received outstanding support from school officials and parents but has heard of situations where coaches were criticized and even dismissed because of personal agendas.

He’s not sure multi-year contracts would quiet the complaints.

“If people grumble loud and long enough, there’s going to be a forum for them,” he said.

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