When I first heard the news Wednesday that the NJSIAA had rejected an appeal to grant Anthony Starego an extra year of eligibility to play football at Brick Township High School I had the reaction that many of you will: they made the wrong ruling. 

Anthony Starego (Scott Stump, All Shore Media)

However as much as Starego’s story is a feel-good one and can be an inspiration for others it truth the ruling by the governing body of high school sports in New Jersey was probably the correct one.

For those who don’t remember Starego is the young man who made national news last fall when he kicked a game-winning field goal in the final seconds to give the Green Dragons a stunning upset of Toms River North.

What made his story such a compelling one is Anthony is a special needs student who has autism and his success on the football field was clearly one of the best (if not the best) stories of the 2012 season. It also came in his fourth season as a member of the Brick program and while the 18-year old will return to the high school as a student in 2013 he will do so with no athletic eligibility remaining.

The realization that football had helped his son so much and they fact it could inspire others led Ray Starego to ask the NJSIAA to grant Anthony an extra year of eligibility as rules prohibit athletes from participating  for more than eight consecutive semesters and after they turn 19 years old.

Ray and his wife adopted Anthony when he was a 3-year old orphan and his success on and off the field is due in large part to having such loving and supportive parents.  You certainly can’t blame them for seeking a waiver of the rules but at the same time you do have to take into account that the eligibility requirements are there for a reason.

In a statement issued last night NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko admitted that Anthony’s situation is unique but in the end the committee voted unanimously to deny the request for another year of football.  Among the reasons cited was the fact that Anthony is a difference maker on the field and getting an extra year would give Brick an unfair advantage.

Let’s be honest. If Anthony kicked a game-winning field goal next season you can be sure the opponent would be questioning the fairness of a 19-year old getting to play a fifth season.

What you have to do at times is rule with your head and not your heart, even if my heart tells me I would have loved to watch Starego swing his left foot through the ball again next fall wearing a green and white #41 jersey.