New Jersey grads will get their pomp and circumstance after all this year, with Gov. Phil Murphy announcing Tuesday that he will relax his stay-at-home order to allow for in-person, outdoor graduations ceremonies starting July 6.
Spring sports student-athletes not only missed out on an entire season, they’ve also lost an opportunity for college coaches to scout them in person during the summer months with the NCAA extending its blackout period to July 31.
As a result, the Greater Middlesex Conference is organizing a combine for its student-athletes who play spring sports and a college fair for all its member schools’ students, with those activities scheduled for Aug. 1 at Woodbridge Township’s three high schools.
The events are contingent upon Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration approving a safe return to school and play by that date, as well as the ability of all participants and host sites to adhere to whatever social distancing guidelines and safety protocols may be in place at the time.
The college fair will be conducted at Woodbridge, while the combines will be held at Woodbridge (baseball and boys and girls track and field), J.F. Kennedy (softball and boys and girls lacrosse) and Colonia (boys volleyball and boys tennis) high schools with a site to be determined for boys and girls golfers.
The combines will first be made available to spring sports student-athletes who will be seniors during the 2020-21 academic year, with underclassmen being provided an opportunity to participate if spots are available.
College coaches from the JUCO to the Division I level will be invited to attend and afforded an opportunity to evaluate players in person.
South Brunswick School District Superintendent Scott Feder devised the concept for the combine and college fair, which was well received among his peers in the Middlesex County Association of School Administrators.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said South Brunswick Athletics Director Elaine McGrath, past president of the NJSIAA.
“The whole purpose is to get our GMC kids excited about athletics and the sports they miss so much. Losing the whole spring season was really tough. This is a critical year for (current juniors).”
Conference President Mike Pede said the combine and college fair will “be a lot of work” but that his league’s student-athletes deserve to be showcased and exposed to college coaches and admissions directors.
“These kids in our county worked so hard and had everything taken away from them,” Pede said. “Our hearts bleed for our student-athletes, so we want to do as much as possible to give as much back to these kids.”
Former conference president Gregg Ficarra, who is a councilman at-large in Woodbridge Township, is helping to run the college fair through Career Counsel and National Hispanic College Fair, Inc.
Ficarra said he believes college admissions directors, who will be invited from schools in the New York-metropolitan area, as well as Pennsylvania, will “be interested in meeting kids they haven’t been able to meet,” and vice versa, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pede praised Woodbridge Public Schools Superintendent Robert Zega for making the district’s high school campuses available for the combines and college fair.
“It’s a great chance for the spring sports underclassmen who missed out on putting out any kind of game film or being seen personally by a college coach to make up for the lost opportunity,” Woodridge Athletics Director Joe Ward said.
In previous years, the GMC Baseball Coaches Association has orchestrated a successful annual combine for its players, called the GMC Underclassmen Showcase.
Pede said he envisions the combines for the league’s spring sports student-athletes to mirror the baseball showcase, during which players are afforded an opportunity to display various skills.
Former East Brunswick star Tyler Burnham, the Home News Tribune’s 2016 Baseball Player of the Year, received a scholarship offer from Seton Hall University after a member of the school’s coaching staff scouted the lefthanded pitcher in the underclassmen showcase.
Conference officials hope similar opportunities may stem from the league’s Aug. 1 combine.