Explaining concepts and logic behind rule that bounced Belle Vernon from playoffs

Written by Mike White on .

The Belle Vernon softball team got bounced from the WPIAL playoffs because it had to forfeit three regular-season games for using two ineligible players. Now let's try to explain some things.

Judging from some "tweets" and emails I've received, it seems many need an explanation about the rule and its logic. Some apparently think it's a bad rule. So so we will try to explain here and also use the help of PIAA director Bob Lombardi (see below).

I would be willing to bet that probably 95 percent of parents of high school or junior-high athletes do not know the rule concerning ninth graders who play on a freshman team and their ineligibility for varsity/JV teams. Understandable. I know coaches who do not even know it. It's just a shame that Belle Vernon, the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion, gets knocked out of the playoffs because either somebody did not know the rule, forgot about it or thought they would get away with breaking it.

It's a shame Bailey Parshall (pictured and one of the WPIAL's best pitchers) and her teammates will not get a chance to play in this postseason. But other teams over the years have been thrown out of playoff contention because someone screwed up and a team had to forfeit games. Unfortunately, it happens.

Now let's try to explain:

THE CASE FACTS: Belle Vernon had qualified for the WPIAL playoffs with a 9-3 record in Class AAA Section 3. The record put the Leopards in second place and the top three teams from each section qualify for the postseason. But Belle Vernon forfeited three wins against West Mifflin, Trinity and Ringgold because it used ineligible players. The losses moved Belle Vernon to fourth place and a forfeit win moved Trinity from fourth to third.

THE RULE: The reason the players were ineligible is clearly pointed out in Article 19, Section 2 of the PIAA by-laws: Under PIAA rules, which the WPIAL follows, an athlete who starts the season and plays even one game for the freshman team can't move up to the JV/varsity teams under no circumstances. Belle Vernon used the two ninth-graders in three games when they were ineligible to play in those games. Under PIAA rules, a team must forfeit any games which an ineligible participates, no matter how much the athlete plays in the games.

Obviously many ninth graders play on varsity and JV teams. That is not against any rules. But many teams still have ninth-grade teams for various sports. If an athlete starts the season and plays a game for that ninth-grade team, the athlete must stay on that team. The athlete can play in two preseason scrimmages and then move levels, but he can't play in a game and then move levels. The rule also works the other way. Let's say an athlete in ninth-grade gets moved up to the Varsity/JV basketball team at the start of the season. After playing in three games on the varsity, let's say the coaches decide that the athlete would be better off in the long run playing on the freshman team. Tough. The athlete can't move back down. Once the athlete starts the season with the JV/varsity team, they must stay there for the entire year.

THE LOGIC: Some of the "tweets" and emails from people claim it's a stupid rule. No, it's not.

Some don't understand the rule. They want to know why it's OK for a ninth-grader to play both JV and varsity. Because there really is no differentiation between those two. They are viewed as "one" team. Varsity is considered the varsity of senior-high sports, and ninth-grade teams are considered the varsity of junior-high sports. Also, many people are under the misconception that a senior can't play JV. He or she most certainly can play JV. There is no rule against it. In fact, it happens. A smaller school might not have enough players for a JV game. So maybe two or three seniors who aren't exactly great players go play in the JV games. Nothing wrong with that.

And because a freshman team is considered the varsity of junior-high sports, I would say 99.9 percent of people don't know that a ninth-grader could play on an eighth-grade or seventh-grade team. That wouldn't make sense because you are taking away a spot from a younger player, but it is allowed.

Now, for some logic on the rule. You could say it's done to promote participation by more students and also, realize it or not, to protect the student-athlete.

Let's let PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi explain some:

"There are a couple things about the rule," Lombardi said. "First, a school or coach has three weeks in the preseason, including two scrimmages, to make a determination of a student's skill set and where they can best compete and represent the school and themselves.


"Also, there's a participation proponent in the rule. We don't want kids going back and forth. That would prohibit participation. We want to promote participation. For example, let's say a ninth-grade kid is like a LeBron James He might go out and play 18 games for the freshman team, 18 games for the JV and 18 at the varsity level. Now he's playing 54 games and really when you look at it, he might be taking two sports away from someone else.

"The rule has been in place for a long time. The schools, the membership, want it. It used to be that we did not let student-athletes participate in two preseason scrimmages. Decisions had to be made before that. But the [PIAA] board put that in to give schools a better chance to evaluate a kid before the season."


Finally, this rule is partly to protect kids. I know there are coaches out there who wouldn't think twice of having a kid practice a few hours with the freshman team and then two to three more hours with the JV and varsity. That's not right. Remember, the schools want this rule.

CONCLUSION: It's hard to say who was exactly at fault in the Belle Vernon case. Principal Jason Boone wouldn't say. Coach Tom Rodriquez wouldn't comment much.

Maybe Rodriguez didn't know the rule, or maybe he forgot. But that's hard to believe because Rodriguez was a middle school coach from 1990-2001 and the varsity coach since 2002. Plus, Belle Vernon did not turn itself in on this rules infraction. Another school alerted the WPIAL, the WPIAL alerted Belle Vernon and Boone investigated.

Maybe this would've never happened if Belle Vernon had an athletic director. Jesse Cramer retired as AD in January and the district has not replaced him. Administrators at the school are trying to do the AD's job. That is ridiculous at a school the size of Belle Vernon. It needs an athletic director.

Maybe this doesn't happen if Belle Vernon had an AD. Lombardi and WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley commended Boone for acting after the situation was brought to his attention Tuesday. Boone investigated immediately and informed the WPIAL Wednesday of the findings and that Belle Vernon would forfeit three games.

In the end, the players suffered. That's unfortunate, but that happens often. It's clearly defined what happens in cases when ineligible players are used. It means forfeits. There was no other way to deal with this issue.

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List of teams headed to WPIAL baseball and softball playoffs

Written by Mike White on .

With only a few days left in the regular season, the WPIAL baseball and softball playoffs are just about set.

In baseball, all of the playoff spots are set with the exception of one. Apollo-Ridge has a chance to qualify out of Class AA Section 3. If West Shamokin beats Burrell tomorrow, Apollo-Ridge is out. If West Shamokin loses, Apllo-Ridge is in. West Shamokin qualifies no matter what.

In softball, nine teams are still alive for playoff berths.

The WPIAL softball committee meets Thursday to determine playoff pairings and seedings. The baseball committee will do the same Friday.

Here are the teams that have clinched baseball and softball playoff spots:


Class AAAA

(Section 1) Pine-Richland, North Hills, North Allegheny; (2) Hempfield, Latrobe, Norwin; (3) Shaler, Fox Chapel, Kiski Area, Woodland Hills; (4) Plum, Franklin Regional, Gateway; (5) Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Peters Township, Mt. Lebanon.

Class AAA

(Section 1) Blackhawk, Hopewell, Ambridge; (2) Yough, Indiana, Mount Pleasant; (3) Montour, West Allegheny, Chartiers Valley, South Fayette; (4) Laurel Highlands, Belle Vernon, South Park; (5) Mars, Knoch, Freeport.

Class AA

(Section 1) Avonworth, Quaker Valley, New Brighton; (2) Brownsville, Chartiers-Houston, Charleroi; (3) Shady Side Academy, Burrell, West Shamokin; (4) Keystone Oaks, Steel Valley, Seton-LaSalle; (5) Riverside, Neshannock, Shenango, Beaver Falls.

Class A

(Section 1) California, Bentworth, Carmichaels; (2) Greensburg Central Catholic, Serra Catholic, Jeannette; (3) Union, Rochester, Sewickley Academy; (4) Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Vincentian, Springdale; (5) Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Bishop Canevin, Brentwood.


Class AAAA

(Section 1) Hempfield, Latrobe, Penn-Trafford; (2) Franklin Regional, Plum, Fox Chapel; (3) Shaler, North Allegheny, North Hills; (4) Canon-McMillan, Baldwin.

Class AAA

(Section 1) Beaver, Central Valley, Ambridge; (2) West Allegheny, South Fayette, Montour; (3) Thomas Jefferson, Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward; (4) Yough, Southmoreland; (5) Indiana, Knoch, Mars.

Class AA

(Section 1) Burgettstown, Avonworth, South Side Beaver; (2) McGuffey, Bentworth, Waynesburg; (3) Deer Lakes, Freeport, Burrell; (4) South Park, South Allegheny, Steel Valley; (5) Ellwood City, Laurel, Neshannock.

Class A

(Section 1) West Greene, Chartiers-Houston, Jefferson-Morgan; (2) Frazier, Monessen, Jeannette; (3) Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Leechburg, Riverview; (4) Shenango, Union, Western Beaver; (5) Serra Catholic, Sewickley Academy, Bishop Canevin.

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Brother of Steelers top draft pick will likely play in area

Written by Mike White on .

Any high school interested in getting a future major-college defensive back who is also a track star? He's coming to this area.

Some school in the WPIAL or, who knows, maybe even the City League, will be getting that athlete, courtesy of the Steelers first-round draft pick.

Thomas Burns is the younger brother of Artie Burns, the Steelers top pick from the University of Miami. Thomas is a 16-year-old sophomore at Northwestern High School in Miami. He is a cornerback who already has verbally committed to the University of Miami, and also is a track star, competing in the Florida state championships this weekend in the 200-meter dash and the 300 hurdles. In sports, Thomas is a lot like his older brother. Artie also starred in both football and track at Northwestern. 

Thomas Burns will likely be playing on a district high school field this fall and running on a high school track next spring. Artie Burns now takes on the role of father to Thomas after their mother passed away of a heart attack last October. The youngest Burns brother, Jordan, is 13.

All of the Burns brothers are coming to Pittsburgh and will live together. They will be living somewhere in the Pittsburgh area, along with Artie Burns' girlfriend and the couple's 1-year-old son, A.J. That means some local high school is in line to get a pretty darn good player. Youngest brother Jordan also is an athlete.

So who will be the lucky school and coach?

"We're looking a different couple schools. It depends on what area we stay in," Artie Burns said Friday after the Steelers first day of weekend minicamp. "I've got to find out what area I'll be living in, and then we'll find out what school they'll go to."

Thomas Burns was a starting cornerback this past season at Northwestern, a school that produces loads of Division I college players. Thomas Burns was listed as a 5-foot-10, 160-pound sophomore on Northwestern's roster last season. You can bet he can play offense, too. Thomas already accepted a scholarship from the Miami Hurricanes. Artie also played at Miami.

"He's a hard worker. Whatever the coach says, he'll do it," said Artie Burns. "He's a competitor. That's in the family genes."

Artie also characterized his little brother as "a special athlete."

You can bet a lot of coaches around the WPIAL, or even the City League, would love to have him. Who wouldn't?

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in Cranberry look like the most logical choice. Heck, it's like Steelers North. One of Mike Tomlin's sons, Dino, is a freshman player there - and that's not all.

North Catholic's coach is former Steeler Jason Gildon. Joey Porter's son, J.J., is a freshman there. Pete Gonzalez, a former Steeler backup quarterback, is an assistant coach. Heck, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert is a North Catholic graduate and sits on the board at the school. Plus, the Rooney family has been a longtime supporter of North Catholic and Dan Rooney is a North Catholic grad.

But North Catholic will be a Class 2A football team in the state's new six-classification lineup. Maybe Thomas Burns will want to play in one of the larger classes. Also, North Catholic has a fledgling track program and no track at the school. Track is big to all of the Burnses - and Thomas Burns is a standout. Burns competed at the Florida state championships Friday and today. He finished sixth in the 3A 200 with a time of 22.40 and third in the 300 hurdles in 39.24 seconds. That's pretty good for a sophomore. In preliminary races Friday, he ran a 21.93 in the 200 and 38.07 in the 300. The 200 time would have won the WPIAL AAA championship last year and and the 300 time would have been second at the WPIAL championships.

You wonder if this might turn into something of a recruiting thing for some area schools, like the Kugler situation years ago. When Sean Kugler became the Steelers offensive line coach, he brought with him two stud players in sons Rob and Patrick. They visited a few WPIAL schools, including North Hills and North Allegheny, before deciding on North Allegheny. And that was all legal.

You can bet some WPIAL coach out there will use contacts or some other ways to get to Thomas Burns without making it look like they recruited him. It will be like recruiting without recruiting.

But doesn't it seem likely that Thomas Burns will end up at North Catholic? Maybe not. But I'd wager it will be somewhere in the Northern suburbs. Or Central Catholic.

Pitt football recruits "jump"

Central Catholic seniors Damar Hamlin and Bricen Garner are Pitt football recruits. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi apparently is getting two with plenty of athletic ability.

Hamlin and GarnerJust look at what Garner did Friday. Garner won both the long jump and triple jump at the Baldwin Invitational. The Baldwin meet is one of the largest invitationals in the country with more than 1,500 athletes. Garner, a defensive back in football, won the long jump with a leap of 22 feet, 9 inches and the triple jump with a 46-2. Both marks were personal bests.

(Hamlin, left, and Garner are pictured with their medals at the Baldwin Invitational).

Garner's feats were impressive. Hamlin, also a Pitt future defensive back, finished second in the triple jump with a mark of 43-6 1/4. Although Hamlin didn't jump as far as Garner, Hamlin's feat might be just as impressive when you consider this was Hamlin's first competition of the season. Heck, he hadn't even practiced.

After football season, Hamlin had surgery for sports hernia. While recovering from the surgery, he hadn't been able to do anything athletically. 

"I didn't even practice before this [Baldwin Invitational]," said Hamlin.

Impressive, indeed.

Pitcher Fraschetti gets 30th win

Neshannock's Frank Fraschetti put himself in some elite company Friday when he was the winning pitcher in a 7-3 victory against New Castle.

The win was the 30th of Fraschetti's career. Only five other pitchers in the history of the WPIAL have been known to win 30 games in a career.

Fraschetti gave up only two hits and struck out nine against New Castle. The win lifted his career record to 30-4 and his record this season to 7-1. Neshannock is the defending WPIAL and state Class AA champion and is one of the top WPIAL AA teams again this season. If Neshannock goes far in the playoffs, Fraschetti could move up the all-time list. Fraschetti needs only two more wins to tie the second-winningest pitcher in WPIAL history. He can't catch No. 1 Jared Lapkowicz, who was 38-4 from 2002-05 at Carmichaels.

Here are the winningest pitchers in WPIAL history:

Record - Name, School - Senior yr.

38-4 - Jared Lapkowicz, Carmichaels - 2005

32-8 - Zach Cheney, California - 2007

31-2 - Alain Girman, Serra - 2012

31-3 - Kevin Ricciuti, Ellwood City - 2003

30-2 - Brendan McKay, Blackhawk - 2014

30-4 - Frank Fraschetti, Neshannock - 2016



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A look at the case of five football players who transferred from Ambridge

Written by Mike White on .


Just by sheer numbers, the case of the Ambridge football transfers was unusual. Maybe one of a kind.

Within the past two months, five players left Ambridge and transferred to other schools. These weren’t just any players. The starting quarterback, the two leading rushers, the leading receiver and the only returning lineman all transferred. And maybe there will be a few more leaving.

Even WPIAL boss Tim O’Malley said the league had never seen a case like this.

It turns out four of the players will be eligible to play at their new schools, but one will be ineligible.

The WPIAL board of directors made the rulings after five separate hearings with the players Tuesday to determine if their transfers were for athletic intent, which is against WPIAL and PIAA rules. After the hearings, the board ruled receiver-defensive back Isaiah McNair is ineligible to play football at Quaker Valley this upcoming season because he transferred at least partly for athletic intent.

The WPIAL ruled the other four players eligible for this season - junior RB-DB Davion Jones and his cousin, FB-LB Tariq Jones, at Aliquippa; junior QB Austin French at Beaver Falls; sophomore lineman John Prentice at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.

Below is some background on the cases. But first some comments from O’Malley and new Ambridge coach Terry George.

Ambridge had contested all the transfers, claiming they were for athletic intent. They claimed the transfers were because of turmoil in the Ambridge program with Dan Bradley resigning as coach and George being hired. At the hearings, George told the WPIAL the transfers were made because the players were worried the team would struggle next year because only one lineman was returning (Prentice). Four of the five who transferred are skill-position players and have some talent.

But O’Malley said the board of directors felt there wasn’t enough evidence from Ambridge to prove athletic intent.

“There has to be objective substantiated evidence. That’s what the transfer rule is based on,” said O’Malley. “It can’t be an opinion. It can’t be ‘we think.’ The difference with the McNair situation is there was some evidence.”

In the McNair case, Ambridge presented evidence of a Feb. 23 tweet from Case Riemer, the boyfriend of McNair’s mother who also trains McNair. The tweet was made in reference to Bradley and it said, “funny how u lie to teenagers that ur in charge of. Glad we found out in time to get the boys out.”

O’Malley was asked about how coincidental it was that the leases for residences of a few of the players all expired in March.

 “If you connect the dots, the court of public opinion might be … But from an evidentiary standpoint, nothing was established that would give an indication that the board should vote that [athletic intent was involved],” said O’Malley.

It should be pointed out that neither Ambridge or the WPIAL felt Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, Quaker Valley or North Catholic in any way recruited the players.

Now, comments from George, who is also a teacher at the school:

“These student-athletes’ decisions had nothing to do with me,” said George. “I was on good terms with all of them. My intentions are to never hurt anyone who wants to make a decision to leave the school for one reason or another. But at the same time, I’m hired by the district to instill a quality program with some pride and in doing so, we have to keep our enrolled students in our district.

“Sometimes it’s hard to create evidence. It’s probably easier to hide your reason for whatever decision you make. For our school district to pull up evidence is hard. Throughout our student body, the talk has been the players were leaving because they thought the football team was going to be bad. But that’s hard to prove.”

George said two more Ambridge players have indicated they are waiting to see what the WPIAL rules before they decide to transfer.

“There’s not much I can do about that,” said George. “But I do believe the decision the WPIAL made will have a lot to do with the future of some other student athletes.”

McNair, both Joneses and French all elected to have their hearings open to the media. North Catholic elected to close the Prentice hearing to the media.

It was up to the WPIAL to decide if it was mere coincidence that these players all left within a short period of time.

*Davion Jones and his family said he transferred to Aliquippa because his mother and father separated in January and his father moved to Aliquippa. So Davion moved in with his father and enrolled at Aliquippa in March.

*Tariq Jones said he moved to the Aliquippa district with his father. Jones’ father said he had to move to his parents home in Aliquippa to take care of his brother. Jones’ father said his parents are moving to California in the summer.

*French lived with his mother in Ambridge, but French’s mother said she moved into her childhood home in the Beaver Falls district with her son and daughter for personal reasons. The family now resides in the same Beaver Falls home as French’s grandparents.

*McNair’s mother said she moved from Ambridge to the Quaker Valley district with her son and daughter because it is a better school than Ambridge. McNair’s mother also said the family considered moving last September.

There is no doubt these players will have some kind of an impact in football at their new schools. Maybe a big impact. Tariq Jones was an all-conference linebacker in Class AAA. Davion Jones rushed for more than 700 yards last year at Ambridge.

The WPIAL certainly had a point in saying there wasn’t much evidence to rule against the players. But you wonder what message some disenchanted high school athletes from other schools will get from these rulings. 

“The decisions have been made and we’ll move forward,” said George. “You just hope something like this doesn’t happen to a smaller school than us because it could kill football in that school.”


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WPIAL to have hearings with five Ambridge players

Written by Mike White on .

Items that fell off my laptop

The WPIAL will have six eligibility hearings today - and all five will be with football players from Ambridge.

Five Ambridge football players have transferred to other schools in the past two months. Included among the transfers are the team's quarterback, top running back and top receiver. Two went to Aliquippa.

The WPIAL will have separate hearings with every player in what has become one of the most unusual situations involving transfers. I don't ever remember one school losing five players, including the top skill position players.

The WPIAL will try to determine if the transfers were at least partly for athletic intent, which is against PIAA and WPIAL rules. But a few of the transferring students apparently moved into their new districts. It might be hard to prove athletic intent with some of these, but Ambridge has contested the transfers.

Wiltrout to throw

Connellsville's Madison Wiltrout set a national high school record in the javelin last year, but has thrown only once this year because she was recovering from "Tommy John" surgery on her right elbow last summer. But Wiltrout will throw again Friday in the Baldwin Invitational, one of the largest meets in the eastern part of the country.

This will be the 43rd annual Baldwin Invitational.

Biega Hall of Famer

Many times, coaches get into a Hall of Fame after they retire. But Beaver Falls boys basketball coach Doug Biega was inducted into the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame last Sunday. Well deserved. He has won four WPIAL titles and two state championships.

But here's a question about Biega: Will he throw his name into the ring for the coaching job at North Allegheny? I say yes.

Also, I expect former North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio to be a candidate for the Vincentian job that just opened when George Yokitis took the Montour job.

Perfect stuff

So, are you impressed or not? Serra sophomore baseball pitcher Zach Bowen threw his second consecutive perfect game Monday in a 17-0 defeat of Geibel. The game lasted only five innings. He also had a perfect game last week in a 17-0, five-inning game against Clairton.

Yes, that is awfully weak competition in Class A. About as weak as you can get in the WPIAL. But it's still perfection. Overall, Bowen has 13 consecutive perfect innings.

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