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Pa. school plans legal action after PIAA upholds ruling about its future playoff district

CHRIS HARLAN
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
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Butler will pursue legal action after the PIAA upheld a decision banning the football team from taking part in future District 10 playoffs, said the school's athletic director.

The PIAA board on Wednesday heard a nearly hour-long appeal from Butler and voted unanimously to sustain an earlier Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League ruling that made the Golden Tornado ineligible for District 10 playoffs. Butler is a member of the WPIAL (District 7) but has competed in District 10 football as an associate member for two years.

Butler can continue to play regular-season games in District 10 but can't compete in the postseason, a situation Butler athletic director Bill Mylan called "heart-wrenching."

"Our solicitor's office will proceed with legal action," Mylan said. "I think it's a known fact that Butler School District sued the governor. We're not going to be afraid to be involved in litigation with anyone else."

District 10 includes schools from the state's northwestern corner. Butler joined that district for football two years ago, hoping a favorable schedule might help its long-struggling program.

The Golden Tornado saw improvement last fall, finished 5-5 and competed in the District 10 playoffs. However, afterward taking part in the playoffs, the WPIAL board insisted that wasn't allowed, saying Butler's participation in District 10 is limited to the regular season.

The WPIAL board voted Jan. 18 to ban Butler from future District 10 playoffs.

"It's heart-wrenching for me not to have an answer for our student athletes when they ask why they're doing this to us," Mylan said. "As an athletic administrator, there's a part of me that understands some of the WPIAL's stance, I guess. But there's also the part where you gave us permission to do something, we set a course of action with our program, we set goals to get back on our feet, and you've taken that away."

Mylan, superintendent Brian White, principal John Wyllie and attorney Tom Breth represented Butler at Wednesday's PIAA appeal hearing.

Situation dates back to 2019-2020: The situation dates to the winter of 2019-20.

After enduring two winless seasons in a row, Butler administrators decided to withdraw the football team from WPIAL competition. The Golden Tornado had gone 15-78 combined in the previous decade and the school saw player participation dwindle.

Butler asked for permission to join District 10 as an associate member, but the WPIAL board denied that request at its meeting in December 2019.

However, about a month later, the WPIAL, under then-executive director Tim O'Malley, reversed course and sent a letter to District 10, saying the WPIAL no longer opposed Butler's request. Current WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman on Wednesday told the PIAA that letter was sent without WPIAL board approval.

Unofficial status: Associate membership in a district is an unofficial status not included in PIAA regulations. Butler administrators accused the WPIAL of a double standard since some City League teams compete in the WPIAL as associate members and are eligible for the WPIAL playoffs.

PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi asked Butler whether the school might be interested in joining District 10 for all sports, not only football, but Wyllie said they couldn't make that decision Wednesday without consulting others in the district.