The announcement was reportedly made during an emergency meeting held by the Buena Regional Board of Education, with superintendent David C. Cappuccio Jr. saying (via CNN) he has informed the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) that his “school district and its athletic teams will not compete in any contest officiated by this referee from this point forward.”
A spokesman for the NJSIAA said Monday that the referee, Alan Maloney, will not be assigned to any more events until further notice. In a video that went viral last week, 120-pound wrestler Andrew Johnson of Buena Regional High School was visibly upset as his hair was shorn, following an ultimatum from Maloney that the teenager was to submit to that or forfeit his Dec. 19 match against an opponent from a rival school.
Johnson went on to win the match in sudden-victory overtime, earning praise for his willingness to do what it took to help his team win. Maloney, an experienced official who cited a rule against excessive hair length, has come under fire by, among other notable figures, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who tweeted Saturday that he was “deeply disturbed” by the incident.
“We have viewed the video footage that has gone viral and are deeply troubled by the embarrassment and humiliation our young student athlete endured,” Cappuccio said Wednesday. “District administration has been working diligently around the clock for the past several days collecting as much info as possible about the sequence of events.”
According to NJ.com, Buena Vista Township councilman Steve Martinelli said at the emergency meeting that Maloney was “a pig, and I wanted to strangle him” for his treatment of Johnson. Rachel Green of Action Together New Jersey said that “every adult failed” the teenager, adding, “This young man will never forget the physical and emotional toll that night took. It didn’t matter if he was black, white, cream or purple.”
On Monday, Johnson’s parents issued a lengthy statement through their attorney, Dominic A. Speziali, expressing gratitude for the “thunderous outpouring of unsolicited support” for their son and condemning Maloney’s “outrageous conduct.”
“As this matter is further investigated, the family wants to be clear that they are supportive of Andrew’s coaches and the team’s athletic trainer,” Speziali said. “The blame here rests primarily with the referee and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression.”
Maloney, who is white, was alleged in 2016 to have uttered a racial slur while arguing with another referee, who is black, at a social gathering of officials. Maloney said at the time to New Jersey’s Courier Post that he did not remember saying the slur but accepted the eyewitness accounts of others who claimed he did.
NJSIAA Executive Director Larry White said in a statement Saturday that “as an African-American and parent — as well as a former educator, coach, official and athlete — I clearly understand the issues at play, and probably better than most.”
Speziali claimed that Maloney arrived late to the Dec. 19 meet and initially “failed to raise any issues with the length of [Johnson’s] hair or the need to wear a head covering.” But then, as the wrestler took to the mat for his match, the referee was said to have examined and rejected the head covering he was wearing,” despite the fact that Johnson’s coaches pointed out he had been allowed to compete “without issue” at previous meets.
“As the trainer is cutting Andrew’s hair in the middle of the gym, the referee is behind them directing her to keep cutting until he was satisfied with the length,” Speziali said of Maloney in Monday’s statement.
The school board said Wednesday, per WCAU, that it was convening with the Buena Regional wrestling team’s coach and athletic trainer behind closed doors and would not disclose details of that discussion. Speziali said at the meeting that Johnson would not be participating on Thursday, when the team has another meet.
“He has not had any ounce of normalcy in the last few days and he’s uncomfortable going into that high school tomorrow and dealing with all of you in the media, frankly,” the attorney said of Johnson (via NJ.com). “The blame here is on the referee."
“He’s done working with our district,” Cappuccio said of Maloney (via WPVI).