Starego, the Brick High School kicker with autism, is denied extra year of playing eligibility

Starego, the Brick High School kicker with autism, is denied extra year of playing eligibility

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Starego, the Brick High School kicker with autism, is denied extra year of playing eligibility

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Anthony Starego, the Brick High School kicker with autism who hit the game-winning field goal for the Green Dragons last fall, has been denied another year of eligibility by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s eligibility appeals committee.

The committee issued the denial Monday by a unanimous vote. Starego, who sought to play a fifth year of high school football, was ineligible under NJSIAA rules that prohibit athletes from participating for more than eight consecutive semesters and after they turn 19 years of age.

Starego, 18, will attend Brick again next year his father, Ray, said Wednesday night. His father had appealed as playing football had not only helped his son’s development, but could serve as inspiration to others with autism.

Starego declined to let his son speak to the Asbury Park Press.

“When I told him of the decision, his first reaction was anger,” Starego said. “His two biggest reactions are anger and frustration. It’s something he has to process and it’s hard to do. This is very difficult for him, very difficult for him. His condition does not lend itself to understanding the situation. He is not in a position to comment in the media because of what he has.”

NJSIAA executive director Steven J. Timko issued a prepared statement after the ruling.

“The NJSIAA’s mission is to promote high school athletics. We believe that sports enhance the educational experiences of all students. And we believe that rules promote fair play. In keeping with our mission, NJSIAA eligibility rules developed and interpreted by members are designed to create a level playing field. Among other things, this means that all students, including disabled students, should have the same opportunity to participate in sports.

“Our rules are designed to safeguard the interests of not just the student, but also the interests of other students on the team and the interests of other schools. Students are provided the opportunity to compete for four years, giving all students the same chance to compete for spots on a team as they move through high school. Qualified students with disabilities should have an equal opportunity to participate in sports.

“Waivers of the eligibility rules are intended to equalize opportunities for students, not to give them an opportunity to play sports that other students do not have. Allowing a student to play an extra year of football, for example, would provide a benefit that other students are not entitled to. If students were permitted to play football for five years, they would displace a student from the lineup who had only four years to play.”

At the hearing, Ray Starego said he presented testimony and letters from autism experts, current and former NFL kickers, Rutgers University athletics director Tim Pernetti and the ESPN producer and reporter who did a recent feature on his son. Starego also had the support of Autism Speaks.

The committee reached its decision after three hours of deliberation. A committee member, Brick School district athletic director Bill Bruno, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night. Brick coach Rob Dahl was unavailable for comment Wednesday night.

“In this particular instance, the committee struggled with this case because the student is such a compelling young man,” Timko said in the statement. “The voting members — all educators — firmly grasp the sensitivity of this case. It is clear this young man has achieved an enormous amount, and he, his parents, his teachers and his school should all be proud of his accomplishments. We are glad that high school sports provided him with this opportunity for growth.

“Here, the student has had the chance to play — and has played — for the same four years as other students. The committee carefully considered the testimony presented and the numerous exhibits. In total, they heard from eight witnesses during the hearing and the committee ultimately voted to uphold its regulations and not grant a waiver.

“This young man brings a high degree of skill to the game. He is a physically mature young man with college-level kicking skills. He is a strong competitor and a difference maker. His participation gives the school an advantage against other teams. In the end, the committee determined that, among other things, the student did not qualify for a waiver because he has already played four years, he’s a difference maker on the field and would displace another student on the team.

“Certainly, there are some cases where students do not have the chance to play sports for four years because of circumstances beyond their control. In those rare cases, the NJSIAA eligibility appeals committee can allow a fifth-year student a chance to play sports in his fifth year. That is not the case here.

“This young man has the right to practice and participate in scrimmages and the committee’s decision can be appealed to the Commissioner of Education. He’s an inspiration to all student-athletes, especially those with disabilities, and we hope others seize the same opportunity to compete in high school athletics.”

Ray Starego said he will appeal the decision to the Commissioner of Education.

“I don’t know if it will be my last stop,” he said, “but it will certainly be my next one. I don’t know if I will obtain a lawyer. I would bet there would be someone who would take this case as it is pretty big and pretty impactful.”

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