Montclair High School out of state playoffs because of ineligible player
The Montclair 2022 football hopes of adding a title to their resume went up in smoke before the first playoff game was played.
The Montclair-Ridgewood game in the North 2 Group 5 state playoffs was canceled Friday night after it was found that the Montclair football team had played with an academically ineligible student during the current season.
The result is that the Mounties would have to forfeit the four wins this season and in turn would not be eligible for the state football game at Ridgewood. Montclair was 4-4 heading into the game.
"We learned last night that an academically ineligible student was allowed to play for the Montclair High School football team this season due to an administrative oversight," Montclair School Superintendent Jonathan Ponds announced on Friday. "We immediately reported the situation to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which informed us that the team has to forfeit its wins this year and is therefore ineligible for the state playoffs, including tonight's game against Ridgewood."
Ponds added that the district is talking to the NJSIAA for any other "solutions" other than forfeiting the state playoff game.
The Mounties, who were the seventh seed, were looking forward to the rematch with second-seeded Ridgewood. It was only a couple of weeks ago, Oct. 14, when Montclair defeated the Maroons, 17-10 in Ridgewood.
Montclair head football coach Jermain Johnson referred most of the questions to David Cantor, executive director of communications and community engagement for the Montclair school district. But Johnson did comment about forfeiting the state playoff game: "It's bad. It's bad for the kids. It's not a good situation."
Cantor reported that the district was notified by former Montclair High School football coach John Fiore about the issue.
Fiore said that he received an anonymous phone call Thursday night about the issue and that he immediately called current Montclair head coach Johnson about the allegations of the academically ineligible student.
On Friday morning Cantor said that Fiore might have “accessed student's personal information."
"We're looking into how and why Coach Fiore accessed the student's personal information, when he got access, and why our athletic director's pre-season report did not flag the student's ineligibility," Cantor wrote.
But later on Friday, Cantor wrote that an investigation into retrieving the student information came up empty. "Based on our discussions today, we aren't able to determine how a student's academic information was shared," wrote Cantor on Friday night.
On Friday afternoon, Fiore, who is currently the Elizabeth High School head football coach, disputed Cantor's claim that he accessed student's personal information. "I turned everything in when I left last April," said Fiore, who added he returned his laptop, passwords, codes and other materials at the time he left to take the job in Elizabeth. "I've had nothing to do with the school since I left."
Fiore's lawyer, Steve Farsiou, added: "Mr. Cantor’s false representation has placed Mr. Fiore in a false light and gives the false perception that he somehow reported Montclair for some alleged ineligible player. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Fiore said that when he was head coach for Montclair he was steadfast in keeping track of his players' grades. "I was always on top of it," Fiore said.
Fiore said he especially kept track in the last semester since the administration would be tardy in getting him the names of the players who were in danger of losing eligibility. "By the time the administration would get me the names, it would be too late to rectify the eligibility for some of the players," Fiore said.
Ponds explained what happens prior to each season. "A report is generated by the athletic director before the season for each of our sports teams that lists ineligible players, and we are actively investigating why the oversight occurred," Ponds wrote and added. "We are incredibly disappointed for our team and very proud of the hard work and commitment of our players, head coach, and his staff."