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Benson & Quijano Legislation to Allow for Cooperative High Schools Sports Programs Heads to Governor

Legislation Stems from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North Concerns & Aims to Address Growing Decline in Football Enrollment Statewide

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel R. Benson and Annette Quijano to require the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to allow public high schools in same school district to enter into cooperative sports programs, if schools are unable to field varsity teams individually received final legislative approval Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk.

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, the legislation (A-5254) 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.

“All students within a school district should have equal access to extracurricular programs regardless of which school in the district they attend,” said Quijano (D-Union). “This bill is just plain old common sense.”

The bill was approved X by the Assembly, and 30-0 by the Senate on Dec. 18.