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PIAA denies eligibility for 19-year-old Riverview player

Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch - Riverview's Keir Barber, center, dodges Northgate defender's during action on Saturday at Riverside Park in Oakmont, August 31, 2013
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Bill Shirley  |  For The Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Riverview's Keir Barber, center, dodges Northgate defender's during action on Saturday at Riverside Park in Oakmont, August 31, 2013
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch - Riverview's Keir Barber (3) runs past Apollo-Ridge's Jonah Cosella (35) on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, at Riverside Park in Oakmont.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jason Bridge  |  Valley News Dispatch</em></div>Riverview's Keir Barber (3) runs past Apollo-Ridge's Jonah Cosella (35) on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, at Riverside Park in Oakmont.

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There were times in his high school football career when Keir Barber simply would not be denied. Third-and-short. Goal-line situations. An all-out blitz from his linebacker spot.

But the Riverview senior, who was slated to be one of the top returning running backs in the A-K Valley this fall, finally ran into a roadblock he could not negotiate.

Barber was denied eligibility this season because he is too old to play, according to PIAA rules. Since he turned 19 before July 1 of his senior year, he will have to sit out and watch his teammates compete from the sidelines.

Barber will turn 20 next May, during the current school year.

“When you're a senior and you're going to be a team captain, you want that feeling,” Barber said. “I won't be able to experience that, and it's sad.”

Riverview did not appeal the ruling, much to the dismay of Barber, who was heading into his third season of varsity football. But Riverview athletic director Bob Kariotis said he contacted the WPIAL about Barber and the league told him there was no reason to appeal — it was a cut and dried case.

Barber called the WPIAL and said he was told the school would have to initiate the appeal process.

The WPIAL rarely grants waivers for age-restricted players, unless they meet requirements such as physical, mental or emotional disabilities — “Extenuating circumstances,” Kariotis said.

“Keir is a great football player; if there was a way for him to play, we'd make it happen,” Kariotis said. “We'd love to see him on the field, but we've exhausted every avenue. The fact of the matter is he just can't play. I can't get him those years back.”

Barber also is not permitted to practice with the team.

Barber said he believes he has a case worth presenting to the WPIAL. He said he has battled Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as well as instability at home. He repeated seventh grade.

“I struggled pretty bad with (ADHD) in school ... it was hard to keep the grades up,” he said. “I just want to explain to the WPIAL myself instead of other people having to do it for me. I was told only one percent of cases like this get overturned. I want to take that chance.”

Likely the feature back for the Raiders, Barber will be missed.

“He's had some tough times, no doubt,” Riverview first-year coach Jason Cappa said. “He's come a long way to where he is as a man, as a citizen, from where he was. To not have someone like that on your team hurts. He brings so much positive energy.”

Barber, who attended Penn Hills in ninth grade but did not play football, led Riverview in rushing last season with 822 yards and five touchdowns, averaging more than six yards per carry.

“So I feel like I have a minor setback, which isn't really a disability, but it's what gave me trouble in school and it was a hard time,” Barber said. “How can I (give my side) if the school isn't cooperating with me, and not realizing that football is almost all I have? It just doesn't make sense to me.”

Cappa will need to lean on other seniors for leadership and find different ball carriers to help move the sticks.

“Keir broke out as an offensive threat last year,” Cappa said. “We need someone like that around, especially on a team that went 1-8 and is trying to turn things around. We're trying not to dwell on it too much. We're trying to develop who we've got.”

Before Barber's situation, the most recent case of an A-K Valley player being too old to play involved Freeport's Marcell Ittner. Ittner also turned 19 the summer before his senior year. As a young son in a military family, he twice moved from Germany to the U.S. and repeated first grade.

Freeport requested an age waiver, but was denied.

“It's not like I'm a huge threat,” Ittner said in 2011. “I'm not 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. I'm losing a year of playing sports for a reason that isn't my fault.”

A similar ruling affected former Valley quarterback Pat Petit in 2008. Petit attended Greensburg Central Catholic as a freshman and sophomore, but repeated 10th grade because of personal reasons. As a senior, he would have been entering his fifth year, or ninth semester beyond eighth grade, a violation of PIAA rules.

The WPIAL and PIAA denied his eligibility.

“Once you hit ninth grade, the clock starts ticking,” Kariotis said. “You can see why the WPIAL does this. They don't want a 25-year-old coming back and saying he wants to play his last year of football.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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