By Tim "Nep84" McCollum - Shore Sports Network blogger

Like many of you Shore Conference football fans out there, one of the first things I do in the morning is check on the news. I knew nothing about the situation with Anthony Starego until I saw something here on the Shore Sports Network.

So I read the article, and another, and another. Then I Googled it and so on. You know the drill. The Internet is a wonderful thing sometimes.

(Photo by Scott Stump).

Finally I saw a post on the nj.com forum that pointed to an article how about this ruling by the NJSIAA may or not be appropriate in all cases. It discusses another kid named Chris Kania in a similar set of circumstances. While the positive impact high school football had on Chris was equally as productive as it was for Anthony, Chris’s parents point of view was they didn’t want to seek extra eligibility because they felt that if they wanted Chris to be treated like any student, he should follow the rule like any student. The article goes on to document how Chris is still a productive part of the program, even though he is no longer a player.

One of the prevailing themes in these articles is that this rule has opened up Pandora’s box or a can of worms or whatever cliché suits you regarding the issue of eligibility of special needs students in the context of athletics. This story highlights it because here you have two students with special needs at each end of the spectrum. I think this is a can of worms that should be opened as it is an issue that merits debate because clearly there are circumstances where some latitude is required.

Which of these outcomes is right?

Are either of them wrong?

This is an issue that doesn’t have a simple yes or no answer.

Let me explain.

I think it’s first necessary to remind ourselves of the purpose of scholastic athletics. These athletic programs exist to extend the classroom to the field, or court, or wherever to teach life lessons in the context of athletics and competition. We cannot get bogged down by winning and losing alone just as much as we can’t get bogged down by the “everyone gets to play” principle.

Everyone doesn’t get to play. It is a privilege, not a right. You have to qualify academically. You have to have sufficient skill to be on the team. You should (to open another can of worms for those of you know what happened to the football team in Utah) represent yourself, your school, and your community positively.

Scholastic sports are competitive. Winning and losing is important and deserves to be a focus. Competitive balance is equally as important. The eligibility rule that limits participation to 8 semesters and prohibits 19-year-olds from the field is a good rule. I can understand the NJSIAA’s hesitance to set the precedent because it has to look at things from the point of view of what is good for all kids, in all schools, and in all sports.

I think at the end of the day the right decision was made for Anthony Starego. I applaud the NJSIAA for the decision they made not because of the threat of litigation or cost but because it was the right thing to do.  Teaching these life lessons to Anthony, and to Anthony’s peers at Brick High School without doing so at the expense of others should have been, and was the outcome.

This is where I was when I read the article about Chris Kania.

Did he deserve to play, too? This is where the debate becomes interesting.

I think the first thing to consider is the opinion of the parents. No one knows their child more than the parent. Reading the stories it is clear that the parents are considering what is best for the child when taking a position. Their point of view has to matter.

The second thing to consider is the impact at the school. One of the things that stood out to me is the life lessons that Anthony and Chris are teaching others. Autism or any other special need is not a stigma. I applaud these other kids for their willingness to accept Anthony and Chris. I’ll wager they learned more than they bargained for. This is 100% aligned with what I think the ultimate goal here is. If you notice though, in both contexts this is happening with or without the student becoming eligible.

Then, and this is where the debate comes in, there is the impact on the masses. How does it affect others schools? Does it compromise competitive balance? Does it destroy the integrity of a high school program? How do you balance the opinion that if special needs students want to be treated like every other student they should follow the rules against the opinion that suggests in order for a student with special needs to develop fully they need latitude as it relates to the eligibility rule?

Reading that the NJSIAA solicited the opinion of the schools on Brick’s schedule I think was 100% percent the correct thing to do. There is no better way to approach this debate than parents, educators, administrators, and the NJSIAA working together to come to a conclusion that looks beyond the scoreboard. Both of these situations ended with “win-win” results and reading the articles you get the sense that both Anthony and Chris are flourishing. I wish them both well.

In fact it almost seems like they are teaching more than they are learning.

Isn’t that the whole point of all of this?

Now that I got that off my chest I want to thank the folks at the combined All Shore Media and Shore Sports Network for allowing the ShoreLine to continue on the new Shore Sports Network. I’m excited about the changes and frankly I like the idea that I can get Shore Conference and Monmouth University news in one place. I’m really into the new features and content that is being brought to the table here.

I’m thrilled that I get to lend my two cents.

I’m Tim McCollum and I will continue to see you right here …. On the ShoreLine.