by Mike Pavlichko
A petition on the website Change.org to bring back fall sports in Piscataway after they were cancelled by the school board due to the coronavirus pandemic is nearing its goal of 500 signatures, with 408 as of noon on September 6th, continuing to gain support from the community.
Joe Bellamy, the father of current Chief football player Rocco Bellamy and 2018 senior football standout Joe – whose team went undefeated and won the first ever North Group 5 bowl championship – began the petition three weeks ago.
The Piscataway high school football team is regularly one of the top public schools in the state, elevated to its highest profile under head coach Dan Higgins, who took over in 2003 and has seven state titles, ten finals appearances, and the aforementioned bowl championship to his credit.
The petition claims the Piscataway Board of Education’s vote to cancel fall sports – which includes the noted Superchiefs marching band – was made “prematurely without any notice to parents, students, or coaches.”
It goes on to say, “As a school that prides itself on the success of the many fall sports teams, Piscataway should not be one of the first schools to cancel. Students, faculty, and administrators were able to voice their concerns and have a say in the decision behind having remote learning, but when it came to the decision to cancel sports, no one was given a chance to speak their mind.”
Bellamy says he found out about the season being cancelled when he came home from work one day a few weeks ago. He says the news was a double-whammy since it came after his elder son’s season had been cancelled down at the College of New Jersey.
“I decided to send my son st St Joe’s (Metuchen) immediately,” says Bellamy, “and we were very fortunate to be welcomed into St. Joe’s and that’s where we are right now.”
Hear our interview with Joe Bellamy below:
Asked for comment on whether the Piscataway school board may revisit its decision, Superintendent Dr. Frank Ranelli issued a written statement to Central Jersey Sports Radio, saying “Piscataway is committed to the health and safety of our student/athletes, our coaches, our trainers, our bus drivers, and game officials. There is so much uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus along with varying data from experts. The Board of Education made this decision to ensure that athletics, marching band, and dance competitions do not contribute to any further illness or death. We do not have plans to revisit this decision.”
However, Bellamy writes in the petition that Piscataway’s student-athletes – and the Chiefs’ athletic programs – could be irreparably harmed in other ways without a fall season.
Transfers like Rocco Bellamy’s are a worry of many around the Piscataway program, including head coach Dan Higgins.
“Sports and competitions play a large role in shaping these students’ lives,” the petition says. “Potential scholarships and opportunities will be missed out on because of the decision to cancel fall sports. To some students, sports and activities are what keep them going in life and to have it all taken away without any say so is unfair. Many students may leave Piscataway High School as a result.”
Bellamy writes, “It should be a parent and student’s decision as to whether or not they want to put themselves in a position to participate in their sport or activity.”
While a handful of districts around the state – including Carteret in Middlesex County, the first in New Jersey – had initially cancelled fall sports, some have reversed course in the past couple of weeks.
New Egypt – which had only cancelled football – has since decided to bring the sport back for the fall. And Trenton recently voted to bring back all fall sports. Both play in the West Jersey Football League.
An email from Central Jersey Sports Radio to Carteret Superintendent Rosa Diaz was not immediately returned.