Fallout from arrests of 3 Monessen football players lingers

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 12:47 a.m.

While the Monessen School Board's Tuesday meeting mostly involved standard business, administrators confirmed they're still dealing with the aftermath of three football players being arrested last week on drug and weapons charges.

High School Principal Brian Sutherland said T-shirts declaring support for the players are circulating throughout the student body but have not caused in-school disruptions.

He also dismissed rumors about students being sent home for wearing the shirts. Sutherland said he witnessed only three high school students wearing the shirts on Friday and zero on Monday.

“We always try to talk with our kids and see what their intentions are,” he said. “A lot of kids act in a leadership way, others follow.”

Sutherland quoted a federal law in which administrators can only force removal if apparel “materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the public school.”

While Sutherland discourages the shirts, he said the students would only be in violation if the shirts were vulgar or students were organizing protests.

“As much as we don't want to create disruption in our schools, I understand the nature of the sensitivity and what their mind-set is,” he said. “Everybody reacts differently. And as long it's not disrupting my school, we go on.”

Since Friday, students were able to purchase screen-pressed shirts declaring “free” with the last name of the 15-year-old boy charged Thursday with possession of marijuana.

Football coach Andy Pacak, who initially alerted police of suspected drugs in the locker room, said Tuesday he was not aware of the shirts.

Sutherland confirmed a handful of students and players acquired the white shirts, which were produced by a graphic arts student at the Mon Valley Career & Technology Center in Speers.

Sutherland said he spoke with an administrator at the center Monday, adding the student will no longer be permitted to produce the shirts during class time.

“Everyone has their own opinion, but the one thing everyone needs to understand is what happened did not happen at the school or directly after school,” Sutherland said. “If you have one of these practices to get acclimated to playing at night – and I understand that, I'm a football guy – you don't have the luxury of trusting people who go home after school and into the community anymore, and that's what has been violated here.”

Superintendent Linda Marcolini said she instituted security precautions Monday in an effort to prevent – and deter – future incidents.

“The entire district is distraught,” Marcolini said following the meeting.

“We circled the wagons, and one thing's for sure, there are safety measures in that field house, just like every building in the district from this point on. I'm also going to look at other sporting events to make certain those safety nets are established as well.”

Marcolini added she hopes this is the last controversy in what has been a trying year for the school district, which included a racially-charged incident at Brentwood and a case of a student contracting viral meningitis.

“It's been a very interesting nine months as superintendent at Monessen and quite a learning curve,” Marcolini said. “This was a very awful happening here at Monessen, but it's a learning process, and it could have had a whole different outcome. While you can say it could have been worse, that's what makes it so disturbing.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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