Legislation Aims to Address Growing Decline in Football Enrollment Statewide
Assemblyman Daniel Benson introduced legislation today that will help rescue the West Windsor-Plainsboro School high school football program and others like it that have fallen victim to the nationwide trend of declining enrollment.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, high school football enrollment is down 4.5 percent over the past decade. West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North has felt these effects. With only four seniors, four juniors and 16 sophomores set to play in the upcoming fall football season, the school was forced to drop its varsity program for the upcoming school year and will only play a JV schedule.
The West Windsor-Plainsboro School District had petitioned the state to allow High School North to merge its varsity program with the district’s other school – High School South – but was denied because the schools are part of two different athletic divisions, North being a Group III school and South being a Group IV school.
“Rapidly shifting demographics in certain school districts beg for an approach that’s not one-size-fits-all so students aren’t penalized because of rigid state regulations,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex), who represents Plainsboro.
“Football offers much more than just athletic rewards. It’s a community in and of itself and for many students it’s a pathway to future opportunities, opening the door to college and beyond. It’s also a booster for countless other programs, such as the marching band and cheerleading, all of which would suffer if a football program is forced to shut down. This bill will ensure that programs can stay afloat for the sake of all of these students.”
Accordingly, Benson’s legislation would require the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to allow public high schools in the same school district to enter into a cooperative sports football program at the varsity level if either of the schools demonstrate an inability to field a football team at the varsity level due to a decline in interest or participation in the sport that impacts the ability of that school to safely field a team.
Under the current rules of the NJSIAA, schools are prohibited from entering into a cooperative sports program for football if one of the schools is classified as a Group III school. This bill requires the NJSIAA to allow the schools to merge their varsity football teams regardless of the member schools’ Group classification.