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WPIAL again rules Lincoln Park basketball player ineligible

| Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, 6:10 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Lincoln Park's Elijah Minnie works out with the Leopards team at the high school in Midland. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Lincoln Park's Elijah Minnie was ruled ineligible Monday for a second time by the WPIAL after the league's board of control re-evaluated the standout basketball player's case.

Mike Bariski, the charter school's athletic director, was notified of the league's decision following an afternoon hearing in Green Tree.

The 6-foot-8 junior was initially ruled ineligible Oct. 3 when the WPIAL decided that Minnie's transfer from Monessen was athletically motived. That original decision was upheld by the PIAA on Nov. 15 when a five-person appeals board agreed.

But the WPIAL allowed Lincoln Park an unusual opportunity to present new evidence Monday. With cell phone records and testimony from the mothers of two teammates, Lincoln Park tried to disprove previous WPIAL findings that basketball drew Minnie to the Beaver County school.

Yet, board members found it “was not substantial enough to reverse what they originally found,” said WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley. The ruling was made in large part because Minnie and his family did not consider schools with lesser basketball programs that are closer to their home, a fact the PIAA also highlighted during its appeals process.

O'Malley said the WPIAL board reached a unanimous decision after 20 minutes of debate.

“I thought we put up a great case,” said Bariski, who expected to file paperwork Tuesday requesting another PIAA appeal.

The hour-long hearing was not closed to reporters. High school principal Brian Sutherland and solicitor John Toohey represented Monessen, which has strongly contested the transfer.

Minnie insisted during the hearing the transfer has been beneficial to his academic improvement and was not motivated by athletic intent.

“If I wanted to be a star, I would have stayed at Monessen and done whatever I wanted,” said Minnie, who averaged 15.5 ppg last year at Summit Academy.

Among those who testified were Ryan Skovranko, a West Mifflin resident who stars for Lincoln Park, and his mother, Christine. One issue was whether contact with Ryan Skovranko or others enticed Minnie to enroll at Lincoln Park, a school with a successful basketball program. Lincoln Park provided phone records that showed the first call from Skovranko to Minnie was after Minnie's first visit to the school's campus, Bariski said.

Minnie spent last year at Summit Academy, a school in Butler County for delinquent teenage boys. During Monday's hearing, his mother, Justina Minnie, described an environment of “drug trafficking and shootings” in Monessen that she wanted Minnie to avoid.

But WPIAL board members were not convinced that desire alone fueled the transfer because Minnie still resides in Monessen and they viewed those problems as community-oriented and not school-related, O'Malley said.

Justina Minnie said she could not move because of a mortgage arrangement with the city of Monessen. But, she also admitted a number of alternate schools closer than Lincoln Park were not considered.

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at charlan@tribweb.com.

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