Students at Pa. high school face discipline over 'disgusting' comments toward female goalie

MIKE WHITE
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
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All students at Armstrong High School have been banned from attending future school ice hockey games this season and a group of students are facing possible disciplinary action for directing chants of a vulgar and sexual nature toward a female goaltender on the Mars team during a game last week.

Armstrong principal Kirk Lorigan said the school is "appalled and embarrassed" at the actions of the student section and chants that the students used during Thursday's game at Belmont Sports Complex in Kittanning. One of the chants was sexually explicit, and Mars coach Steve Meyers said his goalie was in tears after the second period. Mars has played five games this season and the female goalie has been the starter for all five games.

The player and her family did not want to comment on the situation, and the Post-Gazette has chosen not to reveal the identity of the goalie.

Meyers and Jeff Mitchell, president of the Mars hockey club, estimated that 50-60 Armstrong students sat together and acted in unison with the chants. A Post-Gazette reporter viewed video of the chants that are on social media.

Lorigan did not attend the game but said he was "disgusted" that no one — from Armstrong parents to two security personnel — did anything to stop the chants.

"We're continuing to investigate because there were several kids there and we're still trying to identify them and who the ringleaders were for this," Lorigan said. "It's certainly an unfortunate and embarrassing situation. Armstrong High School has to identify those students and a decision will be made as to what the consequences will be.

"In my mind, this should've been stopped immediately by anyone that was there who has any moral value at all. I'm disgusted by it. ... There were a lot of people there who could've handled this differently."

High school ice hockey in Pennsylvania is not sponsored by the PIAA. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League is the governing body of high school hockey, and John Mucha, commissioner of the PIHL, said the two security personnel at the game were employed by Belmont. Mucha said he has been in contact with Lorigan about what will be done to the students and what will happen at future Armstrong games.

Because ice hockey isn't sponsored by schools, school employees aren't at ice hockey games acting as security and game workers, like they might at school-sponsored events such as football and basketball. However, Armstrong has agreed to a PIHL mandate to now have at least one administrator at future hockey games.

Armstrong, a high school in Kittanning, is 3-0 this season and defeated Mars, 7-4. Mars is 0-5.

Mucha said there is security at all PIHL varsity, junior varsity and middle school games. Sometimes it is security provided by the rink, and sometimes it is representatives of the teams playing.

"Some schools are extremely involved and have [security] people at the games and other schools have no one," Mucha said. "Someone should've taken control and acted in this case. My first inclination is that it should've been security because, frankly, that's what they are there for. The officials on the ice are trying to call the game. But there were board members there from the teams' organizations and possibly someone from the Armstrong board should've taken some action."

Mucha watched video of the chants and called them "disgusting."

"The game should've been stopped until the behavior stopped or the fans were escorted out of the building," Mucha said.

Mitchell said he spoke with security personnel after the game to express his displeasure.

"As much as I wanted to push back right during the game, that might have escalated things and made it worse," Mitchell said. "You never know what might happen in today's society. ... I'm so displeased that no one from Armstrong, not a parent or board member, spoke up to say to those students, 'You're going over your boundaries.'"

A number of girls have played high school ice hockey in previous years, and some have played goalie.

Meyers said the female goalie is the only goalie Mars has on its roster.

"We have no one else. She plays varsity and JV for us," said Meyers, in his 14th year as coach. "We've had plenty of girls in this league before and never heard anything like this. With all the training we're required to do as coaches about safe sports and sportsmanship, this should not happen. For it to fail this badly, it's really disappointing."

Lorigan spoke Friday with Mars assistant principal Jess Semler about the incident and apologized on behalf of Armstrong. He also has offered a personal apology to the Mars goalie.

"On behalf of Armstrong and the student body, I apologize not just to the Mars player and the team, but to the whole Mars community," Lorigan said. "This is not what interscholastic sports are to be. We truly are disgusted by it and how it all went down. We will continue to do our best to change these behaviors. This should not happen to anyone, anywhere, in any school district in the United States."

Mark Gross, superintendent of schools in the Mars Area School District, issued a statement that said "we are confident that the Armstrong Area School District's efforts will lead to appropriate discipline for those involved while also minimizing the potential for future incidents."