By MARK J. CZERWINSKI- Staff Writer
There are still some North Jersey high school sports fans who routinely turn up their noses at small-school programs. Quite frankly, I can’t understand why.
Is it because small-school programs don’t have rosters filled with scholarship players? Or maybe because they don’t pop up in national polls or have silly mythical, national title dreams?
As someone who always felt the old BCSL Olympic Division — a Group 1 paradise — was a blast to cover and watch, I’m telling you there is more to small-school sports than the size of their roster. You just have to pay attention.
Consider the fellow who gave me a hard time last week about Secaucus being ranked No. 3 in The Record girls basketball Top 25. To hear him talk, you’d think I just penciled in a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
Now, my new friend had never seen the Patriots play — his loss, by the way — but was simply dismissing them on the size of the school and the league they play in. There’s no way, he insisted, that Secaucus would beat teams like Immaculate Conception and Teaneck, both of which were ranked below the Patriots last week.
See what happens when you don’t pay attention to the big picture?
The Patriots don’t just go around kicking sand on other Group 1 teams. They’ve already beaten top 10 programs in Paramus Catholic, Old Tappan and Westwood, and have games this month scheduled against Saddle River Day and Group 4 Montclair.
They are living proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover or, in this case, a team by its league. There are good teams and outstanding players at every level around here, and you’re only cheating yourself as a fan if you think otherwise.
Being Group 1 or 2, in any sport, doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to anything besides the lower third of The Record Top 25. A good team is a good team, and when a team goes out of its way to challenge itself the way Secaucus does, it deserves to reap the benefits when it succeeds.
So, as the winter season plays out, by all means enjoy the big stars and the big teams, public and non-public, in all sports. But, if you are like my new friend, do yourself a favor and find a game between two small schools in whatever sport you fancy.
You may not see a Division I recruit or spy a college coach in the stands. The outcome won’t cause a major shift in some national poll.
But you will see a bunch of hard-working kids and coaches who care. And you may just rediscover what high school sports are really supposed to be about.