The Kearny boys’ basketball team has been barred from the upcoming state tournament because of an on-court incident that occurred during the Kardinals’ game against University Academy Charter on Jan. 10.
Kearny received the news from the NJSIAA a few days after reviewing the events from that game.
“Of course it’s disheartening. The kids have been working hard all season, and had a solid record,” Kardinals athletic director Vincent Almeida said. “It was an unfortunate incident. One bad decision has affected two teams in a game that seemed under control, a routine, normal game.”
Early in the fourth quarter of Kearny’s 49-30 win, a player on the University Academy Charter reportedly punched a Kardinals player in the face. Players on the floor convened, but no further punches were thrown. The game was halted at that point with Kearny under the impression no one had been ejected besides for the one University player who threw a punch.
However, further discussion and review by the officials determined multiple players from both teams had left the bench and walked onto the court, which according to the National Federation of High School Sports is an automatic ejection.
NJSIAA rules state any team that has three or more ejections during a season is automatically disqualified from the state tournament. It was determined four Kearny players had wandered away from the bench and onto the court.
State rules also mandate players ejected from a game are automatically suspended for the next two games, which for Kearny were losses to Hoboken and Bayonne.
“Anyone who did walk onto the court did not do it to escalate the situation or harm anyone,” Almeida said. “They were not rushing to the group or anything, they were simply drawn in by watching and walking toward it. There was no intention to enter the fracas, but the rules are the rules. We’re going to do a better job of making sure we’re more aware that when an unexpected situation occurs that our players do the right thing.”
The incident is an unfortunate and shocking turn of events for a Kearny team that was enjoying an unexpectedly strong start to the season despite facing significant adversity.
Despite the loss of last season’s leading scorer William Mullins as he battles Leukemia, the Kardinals were 7-2 at the time of the NJSIAA’s decision, matching the win total of the previous two years.
Kearny was in position to potentially qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2017, which was the last season in which the Kardinals had finished with a winning record. According to Almeida, the incident does not affect the team’s eligibility for next month’s Hudson County Tournament.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)