Ex-Sacred Heart athlete says coach paid tuition

(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Tuesday, May 25, 2010)

A former Sacred Heart High School baseball player says his coach paid his tuition so he could play for the Vineland private school.

Andrew Biggs, 16, and his family say Sacred Heart coach John Triantos paid $1,000 to keep Biggs in school after securing financial aid to get Biggs into the Vineland school in 2008. His tuition bill shows “J. Triantos” paid $250 on Sept. 29, 2009. Triantos admits paying it but did not respond to questions about a $750 payment made that same day.

New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association rules forbid coaches from paying for students’ tuition “to induce a student to attend a school for athletic reasons.”

Sacred Heart initially refused to release Biggs’ transcript to Millville High School despite an April 29 court order from Superior Court Judge Gary Wodlinger that ordered the school to do so. Principal Diane Tucker told a reporter for The Press of Atlantic City on May 17 that it was standard school policy to withhold transcripts for students with unpaid tuition.

Biggs and his family say Sacred Heart sought to punish the sophomore pitcher for transferring to Millville this year, a claim Sacred Heart officials deny. Biggs remained ineligible under NJSIAA rules without the transcript.

Asked why they did not immediately turn over Biggs’ transcripts, as per the April 29 court order, Tucker declined to comment.

Diocese of Camden spokesman Andy Walton said Friday the transcripts had been released to Millville last week in compliance with the court order, and the Biggs family said Millville school officials received the transcripts Monday morning.

“Sacred Heart has been trying to tell me how could I go backstab them after all they’ve done for me,” Biggs said. “I see it as they’re trying to get at me personally. I think John Triantos had something to do with this.”

Triantos said during a May 17 telephone interview that all he did was set up a meeting for financial aid in 2008. He added, “If I pay for a guy, it’s between me and the young man.”

Later that day, The Press of Atlantic City showed a copy of Biggs’ tuition bill to Sacred Heart athletic director Keith Jones, who confirmed that the coach had paid a portion of Biggs’ tuition. In an e-mail, Triantos confirmed he paid $250 in tuition.

Jones could not explain a $750 payment made the same day on Biggs’ behalf. Biggs’ family said they did not pay it.

NJSIAA Assistant Director Bob Baly handled Biggs’ eligibility appeal but said he had not heard claims that Triantos had paid for Biggs’ tuition.

“One of our most basic rules is that athletic scholarships cannot be paid by the athletic program or supporters of our programs,” Baly said. “That is a very fundamental rule. Otherwise, you’re professionalizing high school sports.”

As a freshman, Biggs won four games and lost none as a pitcher, with a 0.61 earned-run average and 30 strikeouts in 23 innings. No other Sacred Heart pitcher with more than two innings pitched had an ERA lower than 3.50.

Under NJSIAA rules, Biggs normally would be clear to play for Millville 30 days after transferring schools and could have been eligible to play May 1, if he had the transcripts. Millville baseball’s regular season ended Friday with a playoff loss to Cherokee, but the team will play a makeup game Wednesday against Hammonton for its final game.

Jones and Tucker said the decision to withhold the transcripts was school policy that applied to all students and noted that two former basketball players had a similar situation last year.

“We gave them a services rendered,” Jones said of the Biggs family. “They didn’t keep their end of the bargain. They didn’t pay tuition.”