Farrell forced to forfeit victories
That the WPIAL basketball playoffs exclude Farrell might have as much to do with Larry Hanley's intentions to stop the importing of basketball stars to western Pennsyvlania as it does the status of transfer Iren Rainey.
Hanley, the WPIAL executive director, wants to crack down on the amount of schools using the foreign-exchange process as a means to bring basketball players here for the sake of stardom and, possibly, a college scholarship.
Blame Drago Pavlovic.
Remember him• The 6-foot-5 forward showed up at Cornell High School for the 1999-2000 season, led the Raiders to the WPIAL Class A championship and went on to play college basketball at Iona.
The WPIAL overlooked Pavlovic because he was treated as a transfer from Mariner High School in Florida, not a foreign-exchange student. But its naivete toward Pavlovic has caused the WPIAL to take a closer look at all transfers.
Starting with Rainey.
The Farrell case might be the first where the WPIAL makes its point. Rainey, a 6-1 point guard who played in England as a sophomore, was ruled ineligible Jan. 28 after Farrell failed to provide a "principal-to-principal signoff" for his transfer from Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. The paperwork was necessary because Rainey moved to Farrell without his parents or a guardian.
What complicated the matter is that the WPIAL waited until Rainey had played in 19 games, which caused the Steelers to forfeit 13 victories. Farrell appealed to the PIAA, which declared Rainey eligible Monday but backed the WPIAL in ruling that all of the games he participated in must be forfeited.
"If we didn't do anything wrong, how can you not give our games back?" Farrell coach Michael DeCello asked Monday after the PIAA returned its ruling. "They said, 'You didn't do anything wrong, but you're getting punished anyway.'"
The PIAA certainly opened a can of worms. If Rainey didn't enroll at Farrell until at least a week after the Aug. 29 deadline and didn't have necessary paperwork, how could he be deemed eligible• If he was indeed eligible, why did Farrell have to forfeit its games anyway• It makes no sense.
By then, Farrell's season was already complete. The Steelers, who were 13-6 overall and 7-1 in Section 2-AA at the time of the ruling, finished 4-20, 4-8 in section play. Farrell was good enough to win the section without Rainey, a college prospect who averaged 16.5 points per game, but had no opportunity to do so when it received word of the ruling with only five games remaining.
Hanley admitted that Farrell would have had a good case had it taken legal action to seek an injunction. The school district, however, decided not to pursue the matter. Which was a relief to Hanley. After Tuesday's pairings meeting, he said that the WPIAL selection committee had drawn up a secondary bracket to include Farrell in case the PIAA ruling was overturned.
Farrell views itself as the victim of this fiasco, but what might have prompted the WPIAL to take such harsh action is that the Steelers also had two other mysterious transfers that raised some eyebrows on Iron City Drive.
Ellis Autry, 6-9, played for Farrell early in the season before leaving school without ever seeking a WPIAL eligibility ruling. Kareem Cooper, 6-8, came from Mt. Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina but didn't attend his WPIAL-eligibility hearing. Hanley said that Autry, Cooper and Rainey all resided with the Rev. Robert Stewart of the New and Living Way Church in Farrell.
"I find it incredulous that three players are all living with the same individual," Hanley said. "And they were all transfers."
DeCello said his Farrell players were "devastated" when he read them the PIAA ruling Monday night. He believes that the Steelers are the best team in AA. Even if they can't prove it in the playoffs.
Not that the WPIAL is rejoicing.
"There's part of me that feels good the PIAA saw fit to back up what our board enforced, but there's no good result that can come from it," Hanley said. "There are kids on the team that didn't have a damn thing to do with this.
"Therein lies the shame of it."
A damning shame.
Kevin Gorman is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.