Bosco’s Corner: High time for change at PSAL

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Several recent media investigations and an ever declining state of affairs in the PSAL have brought this about, including recent efforts by Schools Chancellor Harold Levy and the Board of Education to take a close look at the organization that is in charge of public high school athletics.

Thousands upon thousands of New York City students participate in scholastic athletics, all under the umbrella of the PSAL, an administrative body that appears to do little administrating, at least when it comes to the students it serves.

But all of this is not news, despite the fact that the PSAL seems to be making more headlines these days than Al Gore and George W. Bush. The PSAL has been this way for years.

There has been scandal after scandal surrounding the PSAL, which seems tighter than a drum when trying to pry into it for information. I have called the PSAL countless times over the years and more often than I care to remember I have been lost forever in the phone system.

The PSAL is run by Thomas Hemans, a man once lambasted by a coach in a live on-air profanity-laced tirade during a city championship game that resulted in the coach's removal the following year. That coach, Francis Lewis' own Mike Eisenberg, has since been reinstated and will once again coach the girls' basketball team next year.

Hemans has been the target of editorials, coaches' angst and plain ill will over the years whenever the PSAL seemed to be mentioned. And, to be completely honest, I don't know if it's justified or not. Hemans could be well-intentioned, but as the head of the PSAL, the buck stops with him. All that goes wrong with the system he is in charge of operating must be laid at his feet, justly or not.

If the president can take credit for the economy, he must also take the blame. So it is with Hemans.

I have long taken the tact of citing what is wrong with the PSAL on a sport-by-sport basis. Years ago I wrote a series of articles crying for a 'B' basketball league in Queens, something the borough had gone without and coaches had clamored for for years. The 'B' league finally did come about, a Queens team won the city title and I praised the PSAL, of all things.

But there have been far too many problems that have come about that seem to go unnoticed and simple things not done that continue to have a negative impact on high school sports, things the PSAL seems unable or unwilling to correct.

The officiating is not just sometime horrid, but lacking altogether, forcing some soccer teams to play games with just one official this season, which is like a one-legged man trying to win a butt-kicking contest, if you excuse my analogy. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are also questions on the eligibility of players, lack of usable fields and substandard equipment, just to name a few.

I called Hemans this week to discuss with him the general state of affairs of the PSAL, to ask him what he does with his days, how much he gets paid, why only a fraction of the PSAL's budget goes toward sports equipment, what he was planning to do to improve the body, if anything, how much vacation time he gets, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Of course, when transferred to his line I asked to speak with him. I was asked my identity, to which I responded truthfully. I was then told by the person on the other end that "Mr. Hemans is not in the office and he will have to get back to you."

I was asked what my call was in reference to and I said, "The PSAL in general," something I was sure Hemans had a knowledge of and if all were up to snuff, there would be no reason for him not to call me back, if he ever got the message, of course.

I waited and waited by the phone, which never rang, nor did I expect it to.

I don't mean to sound bitter or disillusioned, but I have been covering PSAL athletics for the better part of a decade. In all that time I think I have spoken with Hemans once, though not for the lack of trying.

And I don't want to paint the PSAL as a totally worthless body. It is not, it does provide a service. It's just that that service can be done so much better, as with most things run by the New York City government, which, if you recall, managed to lose money at legalized gambling when it ran Off Track Betting.

There have been some individuals at the PSAL with whom I have a good working relationship, including Ed Michael, the former basketball commissioner who willingly gave me just about any information I asked for on the spot. And there have been others for sure.

But they do not make up for the fact that the PSAL is an administrative body in dire need of an overhaul. The organization needs to be stripped to its foundation and built up again layer by layer. Maybe then the student-athletes of New York City will finally get the kind of governing body they deserve.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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