Leechburg Area School District sports teams will stay in WPIAL

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, July 11, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Leechburg Area School District sports teams will stay in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.

The decision will please district parents and students who had opposed the school board's decision to move the district's teams from District 7 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which is the WPIAL, to District 6 and the Heritage Conference.

Etta Berry said her daughter, who will be in eighth grade in the fall, was frantic about the move. Her daughter plays volleyball, softball and basketball, and Berry said she was worried about keeping up her grades while dealing with having to leave classes earlier to travel farther for games.

“I think she'll find some relief this evening,” Berry said.

The school board voted 4-3 Wednesday, with two members absent, to rescind its May decision to move teams to the Heritage Conference starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Voting in favor of staying in the WPIAL were members Julie Batiz, Carlotta Del Vecchio, Danielle Reinke and Jean Stull.

Voting for continuing with the move to Heritage were Brian Ravotti, Anthony Shea and Terry Knepshield; Knepshield participated in the meeting by telephone.

Members Neill Brady and David Matuscin were absent.

Stull said the move to Heritage is effectively dead, with no further consideration or discussion expected.

The issue broiled into a community controversy, with residents charging the board made the decision without resident or student involvement. Parents said they were blindsided.

The board did not take any public comment before voting to stay in the WPIAL.

In a prepared statement, Reinke bemoaned that more opinions than facts circulated about the issue. While seeing advantages in the move to Heritage, she said she favored staying in WPIAL because the district's student-athletes had not been asked where they stood.

The PIAA, the governing body of scholastic athletics statewide, was set to give final approval for Leechburg Area's move when it meets in two weeks. Superintendent Jim Budzilek said the district will notify the organization of Leechburg Area's change of heart.

Budzilek said he had received assurance from WPIAL Executive Director Tim O'Malley that it would bring Leechburg Area back.

Contacted after the meeting, O'Malley said that although WPIAL approved releasing Leechburg Area in 2014, the district has “never been out as far as the WPIAL is concerned.

“What they need to do is make sure PIAA knows so they don't act on it,” he said.

Resident Melanie Knight was outspoken in her opposition to the move to Heritage.

“It's been a long road,” she said. “I'm ecstatic with the outcome.”

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

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