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Gender issues converging on PIAA

Published November 01. 2013 05:00PM

The calm and quiet that has been a rather unusual hallmark of the PIAA over the last year might be coming to an end.

And the culprit is: gender.

Two separate yet related gender issues have converged on PIAA one directly, another peripherally almost simultaneously, and both could have far-reaching implications.

The first is a suit filed on Tuesday, Oct. 30, in U.S. Middle District Court by the parents of a seventh-grade female in the Line Mountain School District claiming the student has the constitutional right to participate in wrestling.

Currently, the Line Mountain School District bars females from participating in boys' contact sports unless the board specifically deems a sport co-ed. Wrestling is not so designated in the school district.

The girl's parents, Brian and Angie Beattie of Herndon, said their daughter, whose name was not disclosed in the suit, had participated in a wrestling club in Iowa where the Beatties lived before moving to Herndon and expected that their daughter would be permitted to wrestle.

PIAA is not named in the suit; the Beatties' suit is against the school district.

Nor would there be reason to include PIAA, whose gender participation policy is still guided by a 1975 Commonwealth Court injunction that grew out of the Packel vs. PIAA case. In that case, then-state attorney general Israel Packel successfully challenged the PIAA's prohibition on girls participating in boys' sports.

Since that time, PIAA has permitted athletes of either gender to participate in a sport where there was no equivalent sport available for the minority gender. Thus, girls have participated in wrestling and boys in field hockey, for example, because no alternatives in those sports have been readily available.

But the Beatties' suit comes at the very moment that PIAA is seeking new language for a by-law to prohibit boys from playing on predominantly girls' teams.

Since 1975, PIAA has operated on the assumption that the Packel injunction, combined with the federal Title IX law signed in 1972, prohibited any form of gender discrimination in terms of participation. But over the years, while the Board of Directors has become increasingly comfortable with girls participating on boys' teams, it has become increasingly uncomfortable with the reverse.

Recently, a Pittsburgh-area couple, fed up with watching boys play against their daughter in field hockey, looked for legal relief from the injunction. The couple, Mary and Jim Grenen, were well-suited for the task; they are attorneys.

The Grenens pursued the matter narrowly, arguing that the presence of boys who are often larger, stronger and faster constituted a safety risk for girls, a position supported by PIAA.

In August, Judge B. Kevin Brobson issued an opinion that permitted PIAA to author a new by-law that prohibits boys from playing with girls. PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi said earlier this week that both the Board of Directors and PIAA executive staff is working to come up with what they feel is the best language to achieve that goal.

The PIAA will not seek language to prohibit girls from playing on boys teams. The organization would certainly run into legal challenges; the prevailing thought at PIAA is that a ban on boys playing contact sports with girls is an idea whose time has come again, at least in the interest of safety.


WRIGHT REINSTATED ... The odd case of Boiling Springs wrestling coach Rod Wright has come to a conclusion of sorts, six months after he was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

Wright was a 3-time PIAA wrestling champion and has been highly successful as a coach at Boiling Springs; the Bubblers have won three straight District 3-AA team championships and was the PIAA Class AA runner-up in 2012.

But in April he was arrested after police, working on an anonymous tip, searched his house and found a pipe and a small wooden box with an apparent odor of marijuana.

The school district suspended Wright without pay while police conducted an investigation. Wright's case never went to trial, but he was recently referred to Cumberland County's accelerated rehabilitative disposition program (ARD), which is standard procedure for cases like Wright's.

At this writing, the Cumberland County district attorney has not accepted Wright into the program, which enables first-time offenders to expunge their arrest records if they successfully complete the program. Entry into ARD is not an admission of guilt.

Despite the fact that Wright has yet to enter the program, the Boiling Springs school board decided to reinstate Wright as head wrestling coach, but not until Jan. 1, 2014. That means Wright will miss the first month of the season. In the interim, Boiling Springs will be coached by assistants Ryan Eby and Trevor Byers.


A QUIET FINISH ... No piece of high school football video has flown around the country like the clip of Hamburg senior Joey Cominsky striking Annville-Cleona player Josh Hartman twice with Hartman's helmet during an on-field brawl between the two schools on Sept. 6.

WGAL-TV in Lancaster happened to be at the game, and its 30-second clip went viral within just a few days, resulting in millions of views on some of the Internet's most popular websites.

A huge outcry followed, with many people clamoring for criminal charges, Cominsky's expulsion from interscholastic athletics and other penalties. In fact, the Lebanon County district attorney looked into the matter, but has not issued any charges.

Cominsky, who was ejected from the game, sat out the next two games, the first by PIAA rule, the second by school decision.

Many people across the social media spectrum wanted more, especially when a story by the Reading Eagle pointed out that Hamburg's athletic handbook provided for removal from the team if an athlete had engaged in a "serious physical assault."

The school's refusal to remove Cominsky from the team appeared to be a tacit admission that striking a player on the head with a helmet did not rise to the level of a "serious physical assault."

But the school stood firm in the face of withering criticism, and even gained some support when a different angle of the incident one that received virtually no national play showed that Cominsky was not engaged in the fight and reacted only when he saw Hartman throwing punches at one of Cominsky's Hamburg teammates.

In the end, the swirling outrage that followed the viral video eventually just went away. Cominsky served his two-game punishment, returned to his team's fifth game of the season, exited late in the first half with an ironic head injury, but has since played the remainder of the season incident-free.

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