The Case of the Fugitive Quarterback
WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) _ It has all of the elements of a Perry Mason thriller.
A star quarterback with a perfect grade-point average is surprisingly indicted for involvement in a burglary ring. His coach and school officials rush to his defense, only to have the star break down in tears when he’s found delinquent and ordered not to play football.
Then, under cloak of night, the player defies a court order and turns up at a private military school 1,500 miles away, where he’s welcomed with open arms and wide-open receivers.
But this isn’t fiction, it’s real life. And it’s not the big-buck world of college football, where shady recruiting has been a way of life for decades. It’s a high schoool football controversy that involves authorities in two of the sport’s top hotbeds, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Perry Mason may have called it the Case of the Quarterback Bootleg ... or, perhaps, the Case of the Bootleg Quarterback.
″He is one of the brightest young men, I’ve ever met,″ one of J.B. Kulik’s teachers said. ″If there is one word to describe him, it would be ‘exceptional.’ ″
He is exceptional, but Jackson Blair Kulik also is an enigma.
Brilliant in the classroom, Kulik aced advanced math exams so difficult they would test a rocket scientist. Bold and cocky on the football field, schools such as UCLA and Miami have recruited the 6-foot-5, 195-pounder because of a passing arm his coach describes as ″a rocket.″
One day he scores 700 of a possible 800 on the verbal portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the next day he throws three touchdown passes. He turns off some teachers and classmates with an arrogant, I’m-hot-stuff attitude, but everybody who knows him agrees Kulik has it all: brains, ambition, confidence, ability.
And, while some high school football players have trouble eluding a single tackler, the just-turned-18 Kulik has dodged an entire state’s legal system.
It might be the ultimate quarterback sneak.
″He just had an attitude about him,″ Pennsylvania state trooper Larry Maggi said. ″He was very uncooperative. ... He had an attitude that (being arrested) was very trivial, wasn’t very serious.″
Just when it seemed J.B. Kulik had everything, he almost lost it all.
Last August, just before beginning his senior year at Washington High School, Kulik was found delinquent in Washington County Juvenile Court of three first-degree felony counts. Authorities proved he was involved in - some say he was the ringleader of - a youthful burglary gang that stole more than $10,000 worth of stereo and satellite TV equipment and a Rolex watch.
After being placed under house arrest Aug. 9 and ordered not to play football, Kulik - who had bragged to friends he would get off without punishment - broke down and cried. His mother pleaded he instead be allowed to attend a military academy for rehabilitation, but county Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas J. Terputac refused, saying:
″He showed arrogance and disdain to the police officers that investigated this case. ... Regardless of the testimony of character witnesses, we find this young man has a serious attitude problem, instilled in him probably by his family as well as his friends.″
After telling Washington High coach Guy Montecalvo that his attorney would appeal the decision to Pennsylvania Superior Court, Kulik decided he could live without Washington, a blue-collar town of 18,636 about 30 miles from Pittsburgh, but he couldn’t live without football.
Backed into a legal corner, unable to play the sport he lived for, J.B. Kulik did what comes instinctively to great quarterbacks: he ran a bootleg.
″When I first heard he was coming here, I honestly thought it was a joke,″ said Harold G. Glasgow, a retired Marine Corps major general and the superintendent of the 402-student Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas.
In late August, defying the specific orders of a Pennsylvania court, Kulik, his mother and younger brother and sister fled the state. They arrived two days later in Harlingen, a town of 40,000 about 30 miles from the Mexican border. Relatives had told Kulik’s mother about the Marine Military Academy, an ultra-strict prep school where Kulik immediately enrolled. His mother, Karen Adams, took a nursing job after using her $11,000 savings to pay her son’s tuition.
Kulik’s father, John, a self-employed businessman and inventor who has been separated from Kulik’s mother for 10 years, remained behind in Washington.
A strait-laced school with a reputation for boot camp-like discipline and superior academics - more than 60 graduates are enrolled in either the Naval Academy or West Point - the Marine Military Academy seemed an unlikely place for a student with a court record as blemished as his academic record was brilliant.
″I was advised by our attorneys we could enroll him ... but I didn’t think he’d be here in two days. When he was picked up by police on a bench warrant and taken to federal court in Brownsville, I thought we’d seen the last of Mr. Kulik,″ Glasgow said in a telephone interview.
Instead, Pennsylvania juvenile authorities are wondering if they’ll ever see Kulik again.
On Oct. 19, Cameron County, Texas, Judge Rojelio Valdez ruled that since Kulik had been remanded to his mother’s custody, he had not absconded by fleeing to Texas and could remain in Harlingen.
″I’m just happy I’m still here,″ Kulik said. ″If they want rehabilitation, this is where I should be.″
Pennsylvania authorities disagree.