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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wayne Hills football situation: Much like Steven Seagal

Wayne Hills won another NJSIAA North 1, Group III state playoff game the other night, defeating Paramus in convincing fashion. It's something that the school has done practically a gazillion times over the last 30 years. Winning is an annual ritual at Wayne Hills.

But so is the actions of their head coach and athletic director Chris Olsen, who continues to act like he's part of a Steven Seagal movie, you know "Above the Law."

Nine of Olsen's players were allegedly involved in a brutal beating of two players from neighboring Wayne Valley a few weeks ago, one beaten unconscious and dragged to the curb like the weekend trash. There are reports that the victims were not only beaten, but then kicked and stomped while lying on the ground. Yeah, real Boy Scouts, true credits to their school and program.

However, instead of facing punishment for what they did _ and one, a beautiful young man named Andrew Monaghan, who is supposed to be an adult now because he's 18 years old _ Olsen used his massive influence to have his entire team wear their football jerseys and appear at a Wayne Board of Education meeting convened to determine the bastions of goodness' eligibility to play.

So the Board of Ed, feeling the immense presence of Olsen and the gigantic pressure of winning at all and any cost, said that there wasn't sufficient evidence to prove that three of the alleged geniuses were actually there at the incident, so therefore, they should all play.

Now, that's one of the greatest rulings of all time. If we go on that premise, then several of the Manson family _ including Good Time Charlie himself _ should have never been charged in the horrific Tate-LoBianca murders, because, hey, they weren't there.

There is no way in the world that these kids should have been anywhere near that football field Friday night. None.

There are a lot of issues to address here.

First, let's start with the least culpible people, the members of the Wayne Board of Education, who allowed these wonderful role models to get on the field.

They first made a ruling, declaring the nine kids ineligible to play. Perfect. Smart move. But then they reconvene after some legal eagles step in and provided "evidence" that three of them weren't present during the attack. So there was another vote, one with 60 or so other Wayne Hills players present wearing their football jerseys (gee, you think that was organized on their own?) and allowed the nine to play.

"Because it is a criminal investigation, the attorneys were reluctant to give us everything they had," Board of Education trustee Allan Mordkoff told the Record of Hackensack.

"It wasn't a full-blown trial," Mordkoff said. "But we wanted to give it another look because what we were presented wouldn't let us sustain a suspension."

Perhaps the victim's medical records or photos of his battered face would have been enough proof.

Another lawyer, who apparently represents six of the nine accused Wayne Hills players, said that there was no proof of a "beating or stomping."

Again, the suggestion is an interview of the victim or perhaps the Wayne police members investigating the case.

So to these Board of Education members, who were elected by the citizens of Wayne, elected to represent the needs of their constituents, the question remains: What about the victims? After all, they are students in your own district. Sure, it's a rival school, but their parents are Wayne taxpayers all the same. Are you turning a blind eye for the good of the almighty Wayne Hills football program? What do you say to those parents who had to endure their children's hospitalization and recovery?

That's a disgrace. Wayne Valley has always been the ugly stepsister in the eyes of the Wayne Board of Education, that everyone always catered to the needs of Wayne Hills first and foremost. Well, here's proof.

Now, to address Coach Olsen.

I want to say that Chris Olsen is someone I've known for almost 30 years. He's someone who I respect as a football coach and unlike other members of the media, who despise him, I personally like him. He's always been very good with me. He's invited me to his home on several occasions. I've written many stories about him, his team, his sons. I've been fortunate to say I've never had an issue with Chris whatsoever. In that respect, I am of the minority, because he's had issues with a lot of others.

And now, honestly, this is just another case of Coach Olsen truly believing that he's like Steven Seagal, namely above the law.

It was that way when he was the coach of Paterson Eastside, brought in to turn around the Ghosts' program by the immortal educator Joe "Lean on Me" Clark, a man who realized how important football was to the overall discipline of his students.

Olsen eventually wore out his welcome at Eastside, eventually even alienating maybe his lone ally in Clark, simply because Olsen only wanted to coach football and nothing else. Olsen didn't see the situation like everyone else did and he resigned, because he simply couldn't get his way.

Olsen has moved on to Wayne Hills and the controversy has continued. About 15 years ago, Olsen was allegedly involved _ and later legally embroiled _ in a fistfight with one of his assistant coaches. It was a case that lingered for almost two years, with accusations and allegations flying about. It was so much a "cloak-and-dagger" case that I had several meetings with people involved in the altercation, but only in secluded, out of the way places, because they didn't want to be seen or spotted saying anything negative about Olsen.

Olsen maintained that he did nothing wrong in the incident with his assistant coach and he couldn't believe that news of the fight was leaked to the police and later the media.

Olsen was also involved with another controversial incident, one that Olsen couldn't avoid a suspension, even though he truly believed he did nothing wrong. Again, above the law.

Olsen used his then 12-year-old seventh grade son in a scrimmage. The NJSIAA got wind of this case and suspended Olsen for four games at the start of the season. Olsen insisted that he put his son into the scrimmage to prove a point, a learning lesson so to speak, to the rest of his Patriot players that being the quarterback wasn't that difficult, because his grammar school aged son could do it.

Olsen truly believed then that he did nothing wrong. When asked if he thought he put his pre-teen son in physical danger, he said that he was the boy's father and knew what was best for him.

Now, this case. It's a bad pattern.

Chris Olsen should have used better common sense in all of the aforementioned incidents, including this latest slice of controversy.

Is he a good football coach? Absolutely. I also believe he's a decent man, a good father. But Olsen wears blinders that prohibits him from seeing the whole picture.

If it's about winning at all cost, his team more than likely would have still defeated Paramus on Friday night without the nine players. It throws salt into the wounds of Paramus _ and the victims of the "physical incident" _ that Monaghan, the only 18-year-old charged in the crime, scored a touchdown.

And yes, it has to be called a "physical incident," because after all, the legal eagles say it wasn't a "beating or a stomping." Yeah, the victim was unconscious on his own, left in the gutter to bleed on his own.

And to actually organize the remaining players to show up at the Board of Ed meeting wearing their jerseys? There's no way in hell that these kids did this on their own. They were coached.

Chris Olsen is once again guilty of thinking that he is truly above the law, that he should determine what's good and right and just.


Those kids should not have played. The suspensions should have stuck.

And for those who believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, yes, I agree. In the court of law. That's where it applies. These kids are indeed innocent until they face the charges in court.

However, high school athletics is not the court of law. It's not life. It's a privilege.

A high school kid is privileged to be able to participate in athletics. It's not a state-mandarted requirement, like English and math are. It's not something that has to be provided by the Board of Education. It's a reward for hard work, discipline, teamwork, getting good grades.

And once you get arrested of a crime _ yes, aggravated assault is a crime _ then you lose all of those privileges, until it is proven in the court of law that you are innocent. You relinquish those privileges. Plain and simple.

I've had this argument with several coaches over the last few years, after local athletes were arrested for similar crimes. I'm steadfast with that belief. You get arrested of a crime, you're done until you're proven innocent in the court of law. End of privilege.

If you allow an arrested kid a chance to play, what message does it send to everyone else? "Hey, he beat someone to a pulp and can play. Why can't I?" It's an awful message. And what lesson, punishment is provided to those who were involved? None? Aren't we in the business of education?

But hey, some said that since the incident didn't take place during school hours, it should not relate to the athletic fields of play. Yeah, right. If you're an athlete, you represent your school. You get arrested, you disgrace your school.

So Wayne Hills will move on to the Group III state championship game and a rematch with Old Tappan and the state's best quarterback, Devon Fuller. No harm, no foul, right?

Try saying that to the two kids from Wayne Valley who were beaten, stomped, dragged, whatever way you want to slice it.


ESPN should be totally ashamed of itself for running with this "Behind the Lines" segment, implicating Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine.

It looks like the network, which also believes it is the pinnacle of everything in the world, is racing to put this sensationalistic slice of shiite on the tube without any justification.

We're going to get a slew of these stories now after the disgusting Penn State saga, but this one, without a legitimate police report, arrest and simply the allegations of two men (who happen to be brothers of all things), is just wrong.

You can read more of my work at (Athlete of the Week story this week is a Hollywood script), and

So these Wayne Hills kids will remain eligible and pay

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Smokin' Joe and the Electric Slide

The news that came down early this morning that former heavyweight boxing champion "Smokin'" Joe Frazier was under hospice care, nearing the end of a battle with liver cancer, certainly hit close to home for a multitude of reasons.

For one, Frazier was my favorite boxer as a little kid. He was a relentless warrior in the ring, a man who defied the odds. He was considered too small to become the heavyweight champ, but he managed to overcome that stereotype to win the title in the early 1970s.

I also vividly remember Monday, March 8, 1971. I was a fourth grader, but already a huge sports fan. My father knew that and encouraged by love of sports at every opportunity. If he was still around today, he would have totally enjoyed the fact that I basically have a poor-paying hobby as a sportswriter and not a real job so to speak.

Anyway, on that day, my father was insistent that I had to get my homework done. I never asked why, but he was on top of it all day. My father worked for the city of Jersey City in the automotive department and had the night shift, working from 4 p.m. to midnight. He always had dinner with us, but went back to work and came home long after I was in bed.

So that day, I asked him why he was so intent on me getting my homework done. He said, ``Well, isn't that fight tonight?" He was referring to the first of the trilogy of wars between Frazier and Muhammad Ali that was set for that night at Madison Square Garden.

I told my father that I planned on listening to the fight on my little transistor radio that I used to put under my pillow. That little transistor allowed me to envision Madison Square Garden in my head, thanks to the voice of Marv Albert. Marvelous Marv allowed me to dream of the Knicks, the days of DeBusschere, Bradley, Reed and Clyde, when I loved the NBA. Now, it's like root canal. Better yet, what is the NBA?

My father said, ``Good, I just want to make sure you get your homework done."

I always did my homework, so I didn't know why he was so insistent.

He then came home from work and told me that we were going for a ride. I never missed a chance to go anywhere with my father, so I just grabbed my coat and headed for the car.

We started driving and I asked him where we were going.

``Don't ask so many questions,'' he said.

We headed for the Holland Tunnel. I asked why we were going to New York. I also said I wanted to be home in time for the fight.

``Don't worry,'' he said. We kept driving and we were close to the Garden. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out two tickets to the fight.

Sure, it's not the most conventional sporting event for a 10-year-old, but I was with my father. The place was packed and we were sitting in the general vicinity of big celebrities, like Frank Sinatra and Soupy Sales./ Hey, at that time, Soupy was a legend in my eyes.

Well, my man Joe Frazier won the fight, knocked down Ali in an epic battle. It is one of my fondest memories of being with my father, who was sick, dead and gone from cancer some eight months later.

I followed Frazier throughout the many storied moments. I went to the Stanley Theater in Jersey City and paid $20 to see the closed circuit viewing of Ali-Frazier III, the fight known as "The Thriller in Manila." I was about 13 or 14 then and was alone in a theater with a packed audience of rabid adults. But it was my money and I wanted to see it. I remember scoring the fight on a notebook in the dark (the sportswriter in me was already in full bloom) and thinking Frazier had the fight won if he could last the 15th round.

Battered, his eyes almost closed shut, Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch called an end to the fight and Ali won via technical knockout after 14 rounds. It was a fight that took years off the lives of both boxers. It was a brutal, physical, epic war.

There were other memorable moments, like Frazier showing off his lack of swimming skills during ABC's Superstars competition, his fight with George Foreman with Howard Cosell's memorable call of "Down goes Frazier, down goes Frazier," and his return to boxingn managing son Marvis' career.

Joe Frazier was always someone I followed and admired.

Flash forward to 1994. Tracey Tullock, a girl who I coached when she was in grammar school at my alma mater St. Paul's of Greenville in Jersey City, was in need of a costly heart operation in St. Louis. Her father asked me if I could help organize a fundraiser to help defray the cost of the surgery.

So I agreed to help and decided to see if I could get some assistance in raising money. I called my friend, the late Willie Wolfe, who was one of the most generous people I've ever known.

Whenever I needed anything, Willie was always there. He had a lot of connections in the sports world, including several members of the 1969 Miracle Mets, some former Giants and a bunch of boxers.

When I told Willie I was helping with the fundraiser for Tracey, he told me I could have anything I wanted. The next day, he arrived at my front door with a garbage bag full of memorabilia to raffle off. There were autographed pictures galore from the Mets, the Giants, and boxers. There were at least fiven boxing gloves autographed by both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Willie had a close relationship with the former champ Smokin' Joe.

When he arrived at my door with that bag, I was flabbergasted with the generosity. He asked me if there was anything else he could do. Willie had already been his generous giving self.

"How about if I bring Smokin' Joe to the event?" Willie said.

I was amazed. The former heavyweight champion of the world was going to a fundraiser for a Jersey City girl he never even met.

Sure enough, Frazier arrived with Wolfe at the Jersey City Moose Lodge to sign autographs. All of the proceeds of his appearance went to help Tracey.

And Frazier had a great time, signing autographs and mingling with the people. He even got up to dance and did the Electric Slide with young Tracey and myself. Yes, I danced the Electric Slide with Joe Frazier.

Tracey had the surgery. She's doing well, healthy and living life with her children.

So when I heard Frazier was nearing the end of his life today, I remembered what he meant to me as a young sports fan and what he meant to a young girl who needed medical help.

For that, Joe Frazier will always remain a major part of my life. If the Lord calls him home, then Frazier goes to the Lord with knowledge that he was a generous, giving soul, just like his friend, Willie Wolfe, who is so sorely missed.


You can read more of my work at, and

The Hudson Reporter this week features a tribute to my good friend Vinnie Ascolese, who announced that he is retiring as the head football coach at North Bergen at the end of the season. Ascolese was honored tonight, when the township renamed Bruins Stadium after him. I wish I could have been there, but other commitments kept me away.

It's a tribute that was a long time coming, but I'm glad that North Bergen decided to honor Vinnie while he's still here to enjoy it.

I'll have more on my relationship with Ascolese in a blog to follow.