Gerry Eckenrode isn’t looking for sympathy, but he is in search of answers.
The Delone Catholic High School girls' basketball coach doesn't understand why the PIAA has denied his team’s second-and-final appeal.
During Wednesday’s PIAA board of directors meeting, the organization upheld its original decision to reclassify Eckenrode's team to the Class 4-A level because of the organization's competitive-balance rule.
PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi said he didn’t believe the argument that Delone made was compelling and the board's position was that any transfer after the approved window between eighth grade and ninth grade should be considered a transfer, much to Eckenrode's dismay.
“I totally disagree with that statement,” Eckenrode said. “That’s illogical in my opinion. In my opinion, our situation was unique. Why are we being penalized for a home-grown kid that came back?”
Teams with six success points and one or more transfer students over a two-year period were forced to move up a level. Delone received six points after it won the 2019 3-A state title and reached the quarterfinals of the 2020 3-A tournament before it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The player in question: Eckenrode's argument was that the player in question did transfer into the school after her freshman year began, but did not create a competitive advantage for the program.
Delone claims that she was in the local Catholic school system from third through eighth grades, then took the placement test for Delone, but moved out of the area with her family before her freshman year. Later in her freshman year, a family medical issue brought her back to the area and Delone.
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Eckenrode said the player was a member of the junior varsity team last season and played 11 total quarters with the varsity team in games that were already decided and against teams without junior varsity squads.
On the second appeal, Delone athletic director Tim Bonitz said he hoped to appeal to the board’s human element because of the unique situation, but the board voted 24-6 to uphold the ruling.
“They have no human element I guess,” Eckenrode said.
PIAA response: PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz said that the board did not believe the Squirettes’ situation met the requirements for a hardship waiver and fell in line with previous transfers.
"They did discuss that and they discussed that they have had those conversations before and that what they have always decided was a transfer is a transfer is a transfer," Mertz said. "That was what they have upheld previously and they did not feel they should go out on a limb on that."
One of Eckenrode’s main objections with the decision is that he says the PIAA changed the rule during the two-year period. Eckenrode said originally basketball teams were allowed to have two transfer players, so he and Bonitz decided that even if the player in question was deemed a transfer they would be OK with no other transfer players.
Instead, Eckenrode said the organization changed the rule after he already told the player she could be part of the program. He didn’t feel it was in alignment with the PIAA’s mission to turn away a student that wanted to participate because she might force them up a classification.
“They changed the rules in the middle of the game,” Eckenrode said. “So, what am I supposed to say to the kid? ‘You might jeopardize us, so I’m going to cut you.’ Is that what we’re supposed to do? That’s against their philosophy. You’re trying to get as many kids that want to play as possible. The whole thing is a joke.”
Player, mother feel "really bad": Eckenrode added that the player and her mother feel horrible about the situation, but he assured them that it’s not their fault.
“They feel really bad, like they’re hurting us,” Eckenrode said. “I have already told them both, ‘You did nothing wrong and you shouldn’t feel bad about it.’”
The ruling forces Delone Catholic into the 4-A class for a two-year window, where the team will stay if it receives at least three success points or has a transfer player over those two years. Success points are given for each round of the state tournament a team reaches, starting with one for the first round and four for a championship game appearance.
Eckenrode said since the team has a talented rising junior class, it will likely be a four-year move to 4-A for the program. He said that is unfair to the players who will enter the program after the departure of his strong group of rising juniors. He said those future Delone players will be penalized because of the previous teams’ success.
Just add more transfers? He added that teams like his, that are being forced to move up because of transfer players, might as well just add more transfers to help them compete against teams in the higher classes.
“Public or private, any school in our situation, they oughta go get transfers in,” Eckenrode said. “Why not? What would stop them?”
Although he disagreed with it and was upset with the ruling, Eckenrode said the team will be competitive next season. While some 3-A teams across the district and state will be happy to see the Squirettes move up, some others won't be as excited about the move.
“There will be some teams in our district that will be happy we moved up and there will be some people (in 4-A) that won’t be happy that we’re up there with them now,” Eckenrode said.
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