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WPIAL: Connellsville armed police didn't violate rules at Penn Hills games

Dillon Carr
| Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, 4:54 p.m.
The main entrance to Penn Hills High School.
The main entrance to Penn Hills High School.

WPIAL officials said Tuesday that Connellsville High School was not “culturally insensitive” when its sports teams brought armed school police officers to three away games at Penn Hills High School.

“WPIAL did not find that Connellsville’s actions rose to the level of being ‘culturally insensitive’ or in violation of any PIAA or WPIAL rules or policies,” WPIAL Executive Director Tim O’Malley wrote in a letter to Penn Hills Superintendent Nancy Hines obtained by the Tribune-Review.

Penn Hills School Board President Erin Vecchio said Tuesday she is disgusted by the findings.

“WPIAL does not have the best interest of all children, especially in Penn Hills,” she said. “They represent everybody, not just the people you want to represent.”

Hines said she is disappointed WPIAL didn’t see Connellsville’s decision to bring armed school police officers to three games against Penn Hills as offensive.

“I think there was so much more to all of this that wasn’t taken into account,” Hines said. “It’s a very unfortunate situation.”

The next game between the schools is a girls’ volleyball game at Connellsville on Wednesday.

“Our intent is to allow individual teams and families the opportunity to assess the personal impact of this situation and to decide what’s in the best interest of their student athletes,” Hines said.

Hines did not say how long the district will allow teams to decide whether to play Connellsville. But, she said, Stephanie Strauss, the district’s athletic director, will be available to all coaches who have concerns.

She also said coaches still have the full support of administrators to stop play and return home if they believe other players and fans are becoming “abusive,” and referees and host site administrators are not “appropriately handling the situation.”

“That will remain our standing position for all away games, regardless of the opponent’s name,” Hines said. “We expect coaches and student athletes to notify the officials and site managers when there’s a problem, but we will not ask our student athletes to play through such situations and to just deal with it later.”

Connellsville Area School District Superintendent Joseph Bradley declined to comment.

O’Malley said there was a “breakdown in communications” between the schools on whether Connellsville would bring armed school police officers to the games.

He said Connellsville made Penn Hills administrators aware before the games they would bring school police officers to three games at Penn Hills.

However, “Penn Hills administrators did not ask Connellsville administrators whether the Connellsville School Police Officers would be armed,” O’Malley wrote.

At the Oct. 6 girls’ soccer match between the schools, O’Malley said Connellsville brought one armed school police officer. He said no one from Penn Hills administration objected to his presence and no one from administration asked him to leave the school or to secure the weapon.

Connellsville then brought two armed school police officers to an Oct. 8 boys’ soccer match, where spectators were not allowed to attend.

Addressing Hines, O’Malley wrote: “You and the Connellsville Superintendent both attended the Oct. 8 boys’ soccer match and, according to Connellsville’s superintendent, you did not object to the presence of armed Connellsville School Police on grounds that such a practice is ‘culturally insensitive’ or otherwise wrong.”

Strauss, Penn Hills’ athletic director, objected to the presence of an armed school police officer during an Oct. 9 girls’ volleyball game and the police officer left as a result, O’Malley said.

At the end of the three-page letter, O’Malley suggested Penn Hills administration meet with Connellsville administration to “discuss why Connellsville deems it necessary to bring armed School Police Officers to away games at Penn Hills.”

Hines said she wouldn’t rule out meeting with Connellsville. But, for now, she is concerned because it seems the school district fears Penn Hills.

“How do I make them not fear us when we didn’t harm them or threaten to harm them?” she said. “I’m afraid their fear comes from a stereotype. I don’t have the power to change their beliefs.”

Penn Hills administrators canceled all athletic events against Connellsville after reports surfaced that Connellsville students, fans and players slung racial slurs at Penn Hills players during a Sept. 6 soccer game. They said they would not travel to Connellsville or host the school until the allegations were investigated and resolved by WPIAL.

WPIAL held a hearing on Sept. 24 and released the findings of their investigation on Sept. 26.

While WPIAL officials couldn’t say with certainty that slurs were used by Connellsville boys soccer players at the game, they found the testimony of the Penn Hills players credible and believed it was “likely that at least some racial slurs or racially insensitive comments were directed to a Penn Hills player or players.”

WPIAL required that Connellsville hire an outside consultant to address and train its student-athletes regarding racial and cultural sensitivities, which the district agreed to do.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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