The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League found the evidence “credible,” but Connellsville and Allderdice won’t be punished for the racial and anti-gay slurs allegedly exchanged in a boys' high school soccer match last month.
Instead, both schools must implement “anti-discrimination, diversity and sensitivity training,” the WPIAL announced Tuesday, a day after players, coaches and administrators testified at a two-hour, closed-door hearing in Green Tree.
“It was the consensus opinion of everybody in the room — both schools as well as the board — that a punitive approach wouldn’t be successful,” said WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley, who described the two schools’ testimony as conflicting.
A written statement issued by the WPIAL said “both schools presented credible evidence of their respective positions,” and added that neither school requested that the other be punished.
“Rather, to their credit, both schools expressed a sincere desire to work together in eradicating the sort of unacceptable behavior their student-athletes are accused of engaging in,” the WPIAL wrote. “The WPIAL Board has thus decided to view the situation as an opportunity to educate and heal instead of punishing either school or their student-athletes.”
In a statement Tuesday, Connellsville’s superintendent Joseph Bradley said his district will comply with the WPIAL decision but also defended his students accused of making racial slurs.
“(Connellsville Area School District) has been adamant throughout this process that our students were not found to have engaged in the alleged inappropriate conduct throughout the game, and are confident that everyone in the hearing was able to draw similar conclusions,” Bradley said. “Based on the statements from the PIAA certified officials, the site management, and during testimony provided by both schools at the hearing, both schools demonstrated that nothing was witnessed, heard, nor reported during the course of the game.”
Pittsburgh Public School spokesperson Ebony Pugh reiterated Allderdice’s stance that its students did face racial slurs.
“We appreciate WPIAL’s attention to these serious allegations,” Pugh said. “We fully stand by our students who experienced racial abuse during a soccer contest at Connellsville. Moving forward to repair the damage, we are willing to work with Connellsville to ensure players from both teams participate in the anti-discrimination, diversity and sensitivity training as directed by WPIAL.”
The Sept. 1 incident: The allegations stem from a Sept. 1 match at a tournament in Belle Vernon.
Administrators from the two schools initially tried to resolve the issue themselves, the way many disputes are handled, with guidance from the WPIAL. Allderdice is a member of Pittsburgh Public Schools but joined WPIAL soccer as an associate member in 2012.
The accusations became public when more than 30 Allderdice parents signed a letter attached to a Change.org petition entitled “Confront Racism in Western Pennsylvania.”
The letter says “Connellsville players goaded one black and one Latino member of the Allderdice team with racial slurs.” It also contends that Connellsville players “utilized forms of physical touching likely intended to distract and intimidate.”
Connellsville’s administration in a statement alleged that Allderdice players directed homophobic comments toward a Connellsville player.
“We feel the WPIAL fully understood the pain our athletes endured in being subjected to the admitted homophobic statements that occurred,” said Bradley, Connellsville’s superintendent.
Monday's hearing: In Monday’s hearing at the DoubleTree in Green Tree, the WPIAL heard from approximately 10 witnesses, O’Malley said. Those witnesses were called into the room one at a time and their stories conflicted.
“This kid said, ‘He said it’ and the other kid said, ‘I didn’t say it,’” O’Malley said. “And nobody heard it, so what are you going to do?”
O’Malley recognized that some will consider the WPIAL decision not harsh enough, but he disagreed with those critics.
“Those folks who are critical weren’t there,” O’Malley said. “They didn’t hear anything that was said (during the hearing) but they formulated an opinion. Neither school was looking for anything from a punitive standpoint; rather they were looking to develop an approach to try to make sure it might not happen again.”
Anti-discrimination education: The WPIAL has enlisted the Community Outreach Specialist/Diversity Coordinator at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Pennsylvania to provide anti-discrimination education to the schools.
The WPIAL “wanted to bring some credibility to the training,” said Amy Scheuneman, WPIAL associate executive director. “We’ll know the group that’s dictating the message and what’s being said, rather than the schools finding their own.”
This was the second time in two years the Connellsville boys soccer team was called to Green Tree to face similar accusations. The WPIAL held a hearing last September when Penn Hills accused Connellsville of making racial slurs.
After that investigation, the WPIAL board 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.” The WPIAL required Connellsville to train its athletes regarding racial and cultural sensitivities.
“We will continue to support our student-athletes as they evolve into active, caring, critically thinking citizens,” Bradley said Tuesday, “and we are hopeful the collaborative meeting will provide both teams with the tools needed to avoid such accusations moving forward.”