Lou Cappelli & Brian Budic Represent the Camden School District in Controversial High School Basketball Game

Posted March 13, 2024

  • Lou Cappelli & Brian Budic Represent the Camden School District in Controversial High School Basketball Game

Basketball games and other sporting events are usually decided on the courts and fields. However, this past week, one team went to a court of law and beyond attempting to challenge the results of a high school basketball game.

On Tuesday, March 5th, Manasquan High School played Camden in New Jersey’s Group 2 semifinal playoff game. Manasquan made a last-second shot, but the referees discussed the shot and concluded it came after the buzzer, giving Camden a 46-45 win. After the game, video evidence showed that the basket should have counted advancing Manasquan to the state finals. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), which oversees scholastic sports, acknowledged that the referees made the wrong call and stated, “the rules are clear — once game officials leave the ‘visual confines of the playing court,’ the game is concluded, and the score is official.”  There is no video replay in New Jersey high school sports to review controversial calls during games.

Clearly frustrated about the outcome, Manasquan decided to take this case to court. First, they filed a motion asking a state superior court judge to put the upcoming state title game on hold. The judge denied the motion, ruling the court does not have jurisdiction to stop the game until the New Jersey Department of Education and New Jersey Appellate Division weigh in on the matter.

Next, Manasquan asked acting education commissioner Kevin Dehmer to delay the state game while the District appealed in court, arguing that Manasquan should play in the State Finals. But Dehmer ruled that Manasquan’s claims were “not reviewable,” citing the guidelines of the NJSIAA. Lastly, Manasquan filed an appeal in New Jersey Appellate Division. An order signed by Judge Joseph Marcyzk denied the school’s petition to consider the matter. The appellate court added, “While the consequences of a particular call may be unfortunate for a team, the NJSIAA’s regulations recognize the reality that game officials’ calls are frequently disputed, and that permitting such calls to be challenged on the basis of error would result in ongoing litigation, appeals, and scheduling issues, since no game could be considered final if its outcome is disputed in court as a result of an alleged error by officials.”

Lou Cappelli & Brian Budic, representing Camden in this matter, agree with the decisions denying Manasquan’s claims and believe these types of disputes do not belong in a courtroom even though the case has made national headlines.

Cappelli says, “What are we teaching our kids to go to court when they don’t agree with a referee’s decision? It’s ridiculous.  This is youth sports we are talking about, and I think the score in any high school game should be left with the referees. In all sports, athletes are subject to human decisions that are often made in a split-second, especially at the high school level. That is the nature of team athletic competition. In this case, the referees did their best to make the right call. It is not clear if the scoreboard clock was the official clock and whether the clock started in a timely fashion after the previous foul shot. Humans did their best to make the right call. It’s clear to me and everyone involved in this case that high school basketball is settled on the hardwood and not the courtroom.”

Budic adds, “An ugly precedent could have been set by judges trading in their robes for referee stripes and that is not a world our student athletes should ever be exposed to. At the end of the day, youth sports are played, and referees are prone, like all of us, to human error and we should continue to respect that fact and ensure we are using the right venues to solve problems instead of enlisting attorneys to file claims in Court.”

In any case, The Firm extends heartfelt congratulations to the players of both teams. The remarkable display of basketball exhibited by both sides was truly exceptional, and the players and coaches demonstrated champion-worthy performances in their own regard. We extend our best wishes to all involved for continued success in their future endeavors.

Florio Perrucci associate attorneys Nick Sullivan and Wade Dickey assisted on this case.

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