First things first. This column is not being written to embarrass anyone involved with the Kearny High School football program and its extremely hard working head coach Stephen Andrews. That had to be addressed right from the start here.
But here goes. The Kardinals suffered yet another lopsided loss last Friday night, falling to neighboring rival Belleville by a final score of 41-0.
The loss dropped the Kardinals’ record this season to a dismal 1-6, with the lone victory coming against Newark East Side, a program that is winless for 2021 with an 0-7 record.
Of the Kardinals’ losses this season, only Belleville and Hudson Catholic of Jersey City have winning records, but yet the Kards have been outscored 284-86 or an average of 40.5 points surrendered per contest opposed to just 12.2 points scored per game (and that includes the 35 that the Kardinals scored in the 35-31 win over Newark East Side).
Let’s go away from point totals for a minute and just concentrate on wins and losses.
Since 2003, the earliest date that the incredible website www.gridironnewjersey.com started compiling all the records of all the teams in the state (Jon Fass deserves the International Football Medallion of Honor for his work keeping that website up to date), the Kardinals have had just one season (2004) where they finished with the break-even .500 mark of 5-5 under the tutelage of head coach Rich Howell.
The Kardinals have had just four other seasons during that time span where they won four games – 2005 under Howell, 2010 under head coach Pete Llaneza, 2014 under head coach Nick Edwards and 2019 under the leadership of Andrews.
Here’s the ugliest number of all. Since 2003, the Kardinals have compiled a combined record of 36 wins and 135 losses. Yes, one more loss this season and the Kards will have lost a staggering 100 games more than they have won.
To that, there’s only one thing that can be said. WOW!
And yes, Kearny remains one of only six schools in the entire state to have never qualified for the NJSIAA state playoffs, since the state’s governing body began the playoff system in 1974.
That’s right. Not a single state playoff berth in all that time. Howell’s team in 2004 was probably the closest to qualifying, but fell a few power points short and ended up competing in the dreaded consolation game, which in reality, doesn’t serve as any consolation whatsoever.
Those numbers, those statistics, those hard cold factual totals are what they are – the truth.
Sure, Kearny is known as “Soccertown, USA” for its rich, storied tradition in soccer. The Kards are enjoying yet another successful campaign on the pitch, posting a 15-1-1 record, good for the No. 7 ranking in the entire state. The Kards will face neighboring archnemesis Harrison for the Hudson County Tournament championship Thursday night at Red Bull Arena at 7:30 p.m.
It’s a championship doubleheader, one dominated by Kearny. The girls’ title game pits Kearny against North Bergen at 5 p.m., followed by the Kearny-Harrison showdown. Kearny is the only school competing in both ends of the tourney title two-shot.
But the school, the Kearny Board of Education, continues to offer football as a varsity sport.
And as long as there are 35 or so kids who want to play the game and a dedicated coaching staff, spearheaded by the compassionate and energetic head coach Andrews, a product of the program himself who reached NCAA Division III All-America status at the College of New Jersey as a defensive back, then the sport should be offered to its students and teams (varsity and junior varsity) should be fielded.
So what is Kearny to do? The Kardinals cannot keep sending out teams that are perennially being thrown to the wolves. The numbers don’t lie. There is no hint of competitiveness here. None.
But perhaps there is a solution. It’s no guarantee, but at this point, it’s definitely better than the blood letting that has been taking place for the last quarter century.
Kearny decided to become a member of the Super Football Conference, the 117-team organization that is the largest in the country. The SFC, under the leadership of good football people like Nutley athletic director Joe Piro, has become a staple of success in terms of offering competitive balance for all of its teams. The SFC has been able to break up the divisions in the league based on school enrollments and the successes of the respective teams.
Two years ago, the SFC engineered a stroke of genius when the Ivy League was devised. The Ivy League was designated for the SFC’s programs that were downtrodden, with dwindling participation numbers and no hope in sight of turning things around.
The Ivy League first had six teams that were the lynchpins of the idea, which put the teams of equal status and success (or lack thereof) against each other in the same division. Those teams would be able to compete for an SFC Ivy League championship, but were ineligible to compete in the NJSIAA state playoffs.
That idea was basically a moot point, because those struggling programs were never going to sniff the playoffs, never going to have enough power points to get into the postseason parade.
So those SFC Ivy League teams would be able to hopefully field competitive squads, perhaps attain a little success, get some interest in football and encourage more participants in the sport.
It was the best thing to happen to some of these programs. Well, the six initial schools quickly grew to 12 in two divisions.
This year, the SFC Ivy League grew to 16 schools, two divisions of eight teams each.
Is there success attached to it? Well, try this on for size – and you don’t have to look far and wide to see how incredible the idea has been.
Three of the four Jersey City public schools are in the SFC Ivy League – namely Ferris, Snyder and Dickinson. The latter two have been so downtrodden and destroyed by the lack of competitive balance that they haven’t come close to qualifying for a postseason.
But lo and behold, this weekend, the SFC Ivy League will have its playoffs to determine a champion. And who are two of the four teams? That’s right, Dickinson and Snyder, both owning 7-1 records this season.
It’s the highest win total for Dickinson, the Ivy League Red Division regular season champion, in more than 40 years. Snyder last enjoyed success such as this in 1990. That’s 31 years ago.
The interest in football is once again exploding at those two schools. Dickinson has close to 50 kids on their roster. There’s a gigantic level of excitement at both schools, with Dickinson playing host to Montclair Immaculate and Snyder traveling to face Dumont in the SFC Ivy League semifinals. How wild would it be if the two teams face each other for the championship?
Would then Kearny be better served by being a member of the Ivy League? The answer is a resounding
The commitment to the SFC Ivy League would be a two-year deal. If Kearny’s numbers – both participation and wins – improve dramatically after two years, then the Kards could apply to return to the regular SFC divisional play. If not, then they could remain in the Ivy League.
It would obviously help to drum up interest in football in the school if the team was a little more successful. And a little more success would keep a solid football coach like Stephen Andrews interested in wanting to remain on board.
No coach wants to get drilled game after game. Coaching football is basically a thankless position to begin with. It becomes even harder coaching a losing proposition.
The next move will be up to Kearny athletic director Vin Almeida and the Board of Education. Apply for entrance into the Ivy League for the next two years – and see if Newark East Side could be encouraged to apply as well.
It is a move that simply has to happen. There’s no embarrassment to joining the Ivy League. It gives your kids a fighting chance that they just don’t have right now. Let’s do the right thing and stop the string of blowout losses week after week. Who knows? Maybe the Kardinal football team could play for a championship like the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams will compete for Thursday. It can’t happen the way things are right now.
It’s either making this application to the Ivy League or dropping the sport altogether. And no one wants to see that happen. That wouldn’t be fair to the kids currently playing and the coaches busting their tails to put a team on the field. The Ivy League is the first step. Need proof? Look no further than Dickinson and Snyder to the east.
The Kearny High School football program has to make the change to the SFC Ivy League, which will benefit coach Stephen Andrews, shown here. Photo by Jim Hague
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”