Circumstances appeared to be building for the NJSIAA to make a strong statement in the aftermath of Friday night’s nightmare in the second quarter of a high school football game between Linden and Immaculata. Thank goodness, Linden and Immaculata got “in front of it,” to use one of those emerging early 21st-century phrases.
As one official not connected with either school said, “Linden bailed ’em out.”
Much praise should go to the officials of two distant and vastly different schools that really have no ties outside of being in the same wide-ranging, football-only Mid-State 38 Conference. The league stretches through Warren and Hunterdon counties, through Somerset to Union — from the Arthur Kill to the Delaware River. Lots of differences in culture and demographics in those miles, from the urban to the rural, from the wealthy to the middle class. Two very different schools worked it out.
What would the state association have done if the two sides bickered instead of communicated to work at finding a way to answer the ugly incident, which has gotten the attention of national media through the ever-watching Internet? Maybe the state association will yet get the chance to really make an significant impact.
How six officials didn’t see a Linden player wrench a helmet off the head of a Spartan lineman and strike him with it, causing a wound that required 10 stitches to close, is very hard to believe.
Nick Serritella, president of the Mid-State 38, said he couldn’t comment but said he would be interested in what supervising officials would have to say. Immaculata athletic director Tom Gambino said he was told the officiating crew didn’t realize the severity of the incident until seeing it after the game on film. Gambino said he called state association assistant director Larry White on Monday and suggested he look at video of the incident before believing a “reprimand” of the officiating crew appropriate.
“These are good guys (officials) you are talking about. If one of the officials saw it, I’m sure the player would have been led to the sideline,” Gambino said. “That’s how I’m looking at it, but it’s still hard to think that nobody saw it.”
While the Immaculata player was taken to Morristown Medical Center, the Linden player wasn’t disqualified and kept playing. Immaculata players say he attempted to do the same thing a couple of times later in the game and was penalized for it. The penalty that was the most important, however, was the one Linden handed out Wednesday when it cut the player from the team. Fortunately the Immaculata lineman is fine and in fact practiced Monday afternoon, the same day Immaculata and Linden played a scoreless junior varsity game.
“A hard-fought, well-played game without an incident,” Gambino said.
Linden and Immaculata set a model everyone in the state — in fact, anybody anywhere — should use in the wake of such a nightmare. Let’s not overlook the start of this healing, either. Linden coach Al Chiola sent Gambino, Immaculata and its community a heartfelt apology Saturday just before noon. An apology won’t be enough for the player in question Whether he is charged with a crime won’t be up to Linden or Immaculata, a league, a six-person officiating crew or the NJSIAA.