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Pennsylvania high school football team accused of 'racial bigotry, unsportsmanlike play'

CHRIS HARLAN
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
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The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League is investigating accusations of "racial bigotry and unsportsmanlike play" levied against the South Side football team.

The allegations involve actions and derogatory comments made during last week's WPIAL playoff loss to Steel Valley, which brought the concerns to the WPIAL's attention.

"Steel Valley and South Side played a hard-fought game on Friday night. Unfortunately, after the game concluded, Steel Valley administration received reports of racial bigotry and unsportsmanlike play directed against our players throughout the game," Steel Valley superintendent Edward Wehrer said in a statement. "After investigating the allegations Monday morning, the Steel Valley administration filed a report with the WPIAL."

The WPIAL has asked each school to provide a written report, said WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman.

"We will determine the best course of action after we receive reports from both sides, as well as from the officials," she said.

The WPIAL already received Steel Valley's initial report. To avoid any potential bias, South Side will hire an outside consultant to conduct its investigation into the allegations, South Side athletic director Mike Colligan said.

"We're taking these allegations very, very, very seriously," he said. "We'll conduct an independent investigation with a third party who has no affiliation to the school whatsoever. Not that we would intentionally sweep anything under the rug, or this is falling on deaf ears, but we want to make sure every 'T' is crossed and every 'i' is dotted."

The district administration expected to meet with the consultant Tuesday, and the investigation would start immediately afterward, Colligan said.

Steel Valley athletic director Shawn McCallister confirmed the school asked the WPIAL to look into unsportsmanlike allegations, but declined comment until after the WPIAL completes its investigation.

Scheuneman declined to characterize the nature of the on-field actions.

"At this point, I don't really want to speak about it because I don't have everybody's report," said Scheuneman, after the WPIAL board met Monday.

Steel Valley won 28-12, but the win was a painful one. The Ironmen lost WPIAL leading rusher Nijhay Burt to an ankle injury early in the game. South Side players' reaction to Burt's and other Steel Valley injuries is believed to be among the concerns.

"There are a number of issues to be addressed in (Steel Valley's) concerns," Scheuneman said. "Part of it is injury, but other parts we are concerned about are the sportsmanship aspects, which perhaps need to be looked into further."

The loss ended South Side's season. Steel Valley advanced to the WPIAL semifinals to face Beaver Falls on Friday.

"I want to state emphatically that racism has no place in interscholastic athletics, nor should it be tolerated in any part of our society," said Wehrer, Steel Valley's superintendent. "We are extremely proud of our diversity and our heritage at Steel Valley, and Friday night did nothing to change that."