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Leechburg Area board stands by decision to leave WPIAL

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Thursday, May 16, 2013, 1:31 a.m.

The Leechburg Area School Board stood firm Wednesday in its decision to move the district's athletics teams to the Heritage Conference, despite universal opposition from students and parents calling on directors to reverse course at its meeting Wednesday.

That's as much as can be inferred, as board members and administrators were initially silent after nine speakers peppered them with questions and comments during a tightly controlled public-comment period about the district's move out of the WPIAL.

Most comments focused on concerns over increased travel time, and students having to leave classes earlier to get to away games. The move could affect parents and families' ability to support their students at away games, and hurt ticket and concession sales at home games, they said.

Student Kenzie Young said the decision will not affect her, but that she feels sorry for younger students who won't get to play in WPIAL playoff games.

Rivalries and traditions will be lost, she said.

“None of us athletes had any say in it, nor were we really informed,” Young said, echoing parents who have said they were “blindsided” by the decision.

Alumna Paula McCorkle, who said she was speaking for her younger brother, said she is grateful for having played in the competitive WPIAL.

“It's not like Leechburg can't be competitive,” she said, adding that the district's teams haven't done all that well in games they previously played against Heritage Conference schools.

Nicholas Yurjevich said not having the love and support of family and friends at his games would be “heartbreaking.”

“When I was young, I was taught winning is not everything,” he said. “Winning does not mean much to me. I play for the love of the game.”

Antonio Yurjevich said he is a high honor roll student and takes school seriously. Longer travel times will affect his studies.

“I am a student-athlete, and moving to the Heritage Conference will not benefit me,” he said.

Attorney Chuck Pascal, a candidate for school board this year, faulted the board for how it made its decision.

“You didn't sell it,” he said. “There was no educating the public. There was no getting input from the community.”

Pascal said the board should have put the pros and cons before the public, and listened to concerns. The board may have made a different decision or convinced the public that it was the right one.

“You're convinced that you're right,” he said. “But you're here to listen to the public.”

The school board was heading toward ending its meeting, and only responded after a resident, Tina Burtick of Leechburg, rose and spoke out of order. That the board said nothing in response did not sit well with her.

“I think they're owed more than that,” she said. The school board “owes these people some type of explanation.”

Only board members Neill Brady and Terry Knepshield spoke, their comments primarily countering residents' claims and concerns that longer travel times to Heritage Conference schools would hurt students' studies.

Brady reiterated administrators' claims that the district's teams will be more competitive in the Heritage Conference, which he expects will increase student involvement in sports.

Knepshield argued that the difference in travel distance from WPIAL schools to those of the Heritage Conference is not that significant.

Some students reacted by declaring they'd leave the district: “Freeport — here I come,” said one. “Kiski — here I come,” said another.

The school board voted in March to move the district's seven sports teams to the Heritage Conference starting with the 2014-15 school year.

The WPIAL has already approved Leechburg Area's departure, and District 6 of the PIAA, of which the Heritage Conference is a part, voted Monday to accept Leechburg Area.

The PIAA board of directors must still vote on approving Leechburg Area's move. It meets May 22 and 23 in Mechanicsburg.

Approval will complete the transition.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or

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