Steven J. Timko, 67, has been executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association since 2006.
He has two years left on his contract. The association, which has 434 member schools, governs New Jersey high school sports.
Q: The NJSIAA has come under intense scrutiny from the media and politicians the past three years. What has that been like?
A: I think a lot of the scrutiny was unwarranted. I think we have an outstanding association. We have outstanding people that work for the association. On the other hand, there were things the NJSIAA needed to put into place (regarding finances), and we’ve done that. We have all of our finances in great shape. Out of some negativity, good things have happened. I’m not looking at it from a negative standpoint. I’m looking at it as a positive.
Q: People often have a negative view of the NJSIAA because the only time they hear about the organization is when it has to sanction a team or player for breaking rules. How frustrating is that?
A: You hit the nail on the head. People really don’t understand or know who NJSIAA really is. We’re the member schools. There’s 434 member schools, and everybody just looks at our office. We interpret the rules and the regulations that the membership makes. People don’t understand all that we do to promote the health and safety of our student athletes. I’m coming down to the wrestling championships (in Atlantic City). We put in place in wrestling alone the hydration weight management (testing), looking out for the health and safety of kids. We put in a steroid testing program. Unfortunately, (sanctioning teams) is what makes the headlines, not what we do on a daily basis to help and promote student athletes in New Jersey.
Q: What do the wrestling championships at Boardwalk Hall mean to the NJSIAA image-wise and financially?
A: Atlantic City is a happening. You get 40,000 people there for the weekend and 10,000 per session. You have 336 wrestlers there. That’s 672 parents. When you get 10,000 people showing up, those are fans. People have been going to the wrestling championships for the last 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. It’s an outstanding event. Financially, we do well at the event. But we also have a lot of expenses.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about the NJSIAA?
A: I don’t think the general public really knows who the NJSIAA really is. People go to the state tournament and they may see our initials up there, but they don’t know we’re responsible for 259,000 student athletes. We have the eighth largest student participation in the country. They don’t know we deal with 25,000 coaches and 10,000 officials. We were the first state in the nation to test for steroids. We’re looking out for the health and welfare of our student athletes. There are so many different tentacles of NJSIAA that I don’t think people are aware of.
Q: The NJSIAA spends $50,000 a school year on steroid testing of athletes. Is it worth it, and has the testing been effective?
A: I think it’s strongly effective. I think it’s something the NJSIAA needs to continue to do. It’s extremely important that student-athletes know we care and we want to maintain a level playing field. I don’t know if student-athletes know how their bodies can be impacted by experimenting with steroids. If we can stop one kid from taking or using, then I think we’re meeting the goal of the association.
Q: The NJSIAA has hired a public relations firm and has been more proactive about sending out news releases. Has that helped the organization’s public image?
A: I think the (news releases and public relations firm) have highlighted the positive things, letting people know about the number of kids involved in our programs. We have 259,000 student-athletes. We run more state championships (32) than anybody in the country. We work with 25,000 coaches and 10,000 officials. We work with some outstanding venues.
Q: What is the NJSIAA’s reaction to the January directive from the U.S. Department of Education that tells schools they must include students with disabilities in existing sports programs or provide equal alternative options?
A: One of the things we’re doing is getting a task force together. We’ll get a better definition of the ruling and how it will impact our membership. We’ll also be trying to get more information from the (New Jersey) Department of Education. We’ll be looking at best practices from around the country. There have been states that have been more active in this than others. Right now it’s information gathering, then assessment and basically trying to implement (a program) from there.
Q: How important is it for New Jersey to take the lead in providing opportunities for disabled athletes?
A: There are people that are interested in working with us. We want to use the best practices we can find. We want to make sure we’re providing for all of our students, disabled and not disabled. We want to provide the best programs we can.
Q: Is there any solution to the conflict between public and nonpublic schools?
A: One of the things we’ve done is gone through two conference realignments. As an association, we’re looking to create less acrimony between the public and nonpublic schools. But now there are multiple issues. You’re dealing with choice schools. The vocational schools have multiple sending areas. But there’s still strong feelings (between public and nonpublic schools), and primarily it stems around the areas the nonpublic schools have the opportunities to draw (athletes) from.
Q: Should athletes who transfer to choice schools be subject to the NJSIAA transfer policy that requires nearly all athletes who transfer without a bona fide change of residency to sit the first 30 days of the season? Currently, athletes who transfer to a choice school do not have to sit 30 days.
A: Hopefully, we’ll keep working with the state Department of Education to at least keep them appraised of some of the things that can happen with school choice. I still think that our transfer rule (should apply) across the board for all student-athletes, whether it be school choice, public or nonpublic schools. All our student athletes should be treated the same.
Q: Wildwood High School has enrollment of slightly more than 200. Elizabeth has more than 3,000. How tough is it for the NJSIAA to meet the needs of its divergent members?
A: They’re all student-athletes. They all want to be involved in programs. We have our (enrollment) group classifications be sports-specific. We’re able to deal with the size of the membership. The thing I feel very good about is that, as an association, we’ve continued to grow. We have not seen a decline in the participation of (New Jersey) student-athletes. We have seen an incline. We also hear from our membership on a monthly basis about issues (at the NJSIAA leagues and conferences committee meeting) that are out there. We hear about areas of concerns from the membership. They hear about areas of concern from us, and we meet to melt everything together.
Q: What is the possibility of playing to an overall state title in football rather than just sectional championships for public schools?
A: I see that proposal coming back again. Any of the proposals that have come forward we brought to the membership. If that is what the membership is looking for, they will have an opportunity to vote on it. We haven’t tried to dissuade or have votes go in one direction or another. But the concept of an overall state champion is one that has been discussed more and more and has come to the forefront more often than any other of our rules, regulations or tournament philosophies.
Q: Crew is a popular sport in South Jersey and getting more popular throughout the state. What are the chances of the NJSIAA sanctioning a state crew championship?
A: I think that would have to come from the membership themselves. We don’t go out and say, “Let’s do a state championship for this sport.” It’s funny. I had somebody call me the other day and ask to sanction karate. I told them that it would have to come from the membership and see how many schools there actually were who wanted to have the sport looked at it. We then go to our executive committee and the full membership to see if they want to add to the 32 (championships) we have right now.
Q: The NJSIAA was created in 1918. Will the organization survive to celebrate its 100th birthday in 2018?
A: No doubt. We’re going to make it to 100 and more. We’re a strong organization and getting stronger every year.
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