The PIAA can add one more school to the list of programs appealing its reclassification under the organization’s competitive-balance rule.
The Delone Catholic High girls’ basketball program is one of 15 basketball teams across the state that have been informed by the PIAA that it will be forced to move up a classification because it met the criteria under the organization’s competition formula. The rule is intended to stop highly successful teams from unfairly adding players via transfer, but the Squirettes believe they are not guilty of trying to manipulate the system.
Delone is appealing the move up from Class 3-A to Class 4-A.
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“Our feeling is, the way it’s being applied to our situation isn’t the nature of intent that the PIAA originally set these rules out for,” Delone Catholic athletic director Tim Bonitz said.
Competitive-balance rules: The rule in question states that teams that receive six success points during a two-year cycle and have one or more transfer players on their roster will be moved up a classification. Teams earn four points for a state title appearance, three for a semifinal spot, two for the quarterfinals and one for a berth into the state tournament.
Delone Catholic received six points because it won the 2019 3-A state title and reached the quarterfinals of the 2020 girls’ tournament before it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Squirettes and the other 14 programs in the same situation that reached the success-point threshold were then checked for transfer players and the PIAA found that Delone Catholic had three such players.
Transfer troubles: Bonitz and Delone Catholic girls’ coach Gerry Eckenrode say that is not true and are basing their appeal on the claim that none of the three players are transfers that gave the team a competitive advantage. The PIAA looked at submitted rosters from the past three seasons and if a player wasn’t on the roster the year before they were counted as a transfer.
Eckenrode said that two of the players in question have been in the school system since they were young, but didn’t choose to play basketball as freshmen. He was shocked to see them included as transfers.
“They have been going to our grade school since kindergarten,” Eckenrode said. “I said, ‘What the heck are they doing on there?’ I thought that was a joke.”
The third player which will likely be the real question in regards to the school’s appeal technically did transfer into Delone Catholic after her freshman season began, but not for basketball reasons.
Eckenrode said the player was in the school system from third to eighth grade, but moved out of state with family before her freshman year, but a family medical situation brought her back to Delone Catholic after the first semester. Bonitz said she was a member of the junior varsity team this year and the unique situation is one that Bonitz and Eckenrode hope the PIAA will understand.
“I don’t think we received any type of competitive advantage in this two-year cycle to warrant us being bumped up to play bigger schools,” Bonitz said. “We understand the intent of the rule, but we just feel like it’s not being applied to our situation correctly.”
Confident in appeal: Eckenrode added that if Delone's appeals is denied, the team would still be competitive at the 4-A level, despite its small size. Delone was sophomore-dominated team this past season and will return the bulk of its contributing players next season — with the glaring exception of all-state senior Brooke Lawyer.
The Squirettes’ coach said the school was one student away from being classified as a 2-A program when the numbers were counted, so a move up next season would still present challenges.
Bonitz said that the final decision on the school’s classification for next season would come by the end of the month, which would include a second appeal, if necessary. Both Eckenrode and Bonitz were confident that the PIAA would understand that they did not try to manipulate any rules and approve their appeal.
“We have not created a competitive advantage by doing this,” Eckenrode said. “If we did, then I have no reservations about going up (a classification). If I had a person come in that was going to be a 1,000-point scorer and an all-state player then I got it, I have no problem with that. That’s what the rule is designed for and I agree with that. But, we’re not in that situation.”
Delone finished 26-1 this past season, winning York-Adams Division III and District 3 3-A titles. The Squirettes were 25-4 in 2018-2019 en route to the state crown. Delone has won four state titles under Eckenrode since the turn of the century.
Other teams at risk of promotion: The boys' teams at risk for promotion, along with their number of transfers, are: Archbishop Wood (11), Imhotep Charter (six), Bonner-Prendergast (seven), Camp Hill Trinity (12), Lincoln Park (11), Math, Civics and Sciences Charter (11), Bishop Guilfoyle (14) and Sankofa Freedom Academy (15). The girls' teams on the PIAA list are Archbishop Carroll (four), Bethehem Catholic (eight), Dunmore (two), Delone Catholic (three), Chartiers Valley (one), North Catholic (one) and Bellwood Antis (one).
Of the 15 schools, six are from District 12, which includes Philadelphia Catholic League and public school teams. Three are from District 7 in western Pennsylvania. Other than Delone, the only other District 3 team on the list is the Trinity boys. The team that Delone defeated in the 2019 3-A girls' state final, Dunmore, is also on the list.
Reach Rob Rose at email@example.com.