Burrell football coach says playoff opponent used racial slurs, his protest led to ejection

Sunday, November 5, 2023 | 2:04 PM

Burrell football coach Shawn Liotta said his players were targeted with racial slurs in a game Friday against Mohawk and that he was ejected after confronting game officials about it.

“Their kids were repeatedly using racist remarks toward our kids,” said Liotta, a sixth-year coach at Burrell. “Our coaches and probably 20-some players heard the words. I kept asking the officials, ‘Can we please get control of this? They keep calling our kids these words.’ The officials kept saying they didn’t hear it.”

The two teams played a WPIAL Class 2A first-round playoff game at Mohawk, which defeated Burrell, 42-0.

Mohawk coach Tim McCutcheon declined comment Sunday but in a text message called the allegations “heinous, irresponsible and false.” Mohawk superintendent Lorree Houk did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Liotta was ejected with 11 seconds left in the first half after walking onto the field during a timeout to confront the officials. Burrell was trailing, 28-0, but Liotta said his concern at that moment was about the racial slurs.

“It’s my duty to protect my kids,” he said. “That’s more important than anything that’s going on in the game. I cannot allow them to be subjected to that kind of stuff. That’s why I was ejected. I came out to midfield, and they didn’t like what I was saying to them and I didn’t like what they were saying to me.”

WPIAL administrator Vince Sortino declined comment until the league receives a report from the officials about the ejection. Sortino said ejection reports for Friday games typically arrive on Monday.

The PIAA requires a report for all ejections.

On Friday, the final 11 seconds were run off the first-half clock and officials sent the teams to their locker rooms for halftime. According to a New Castle News story about the game, McCutcheon later accused Burrell of dirty play.

“I had to talk about, truthfully, if they were getting punched in the head that they had to walk away,” McCutcheon told the New Castle News about his halftime talk. “It was certainly a different look that this team brought here this week.

“Unfortunately, there were a lot of other things that I had to be concerned about beyond football, and paramount was safety. Unfortunately, it was an unusual halftime talk and one I don’t care to have again.”

Liotta denied that his team plays dirty and instead said his players were riled up by Mohawk’s actions.

“It is not us being sore losers,” Liotta said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. We’re not a dirty team. We don’t do dirty tactics. That’s never been the case with any of the teams I’ve ever coached.”

In a letter sent to the WPIAL and provided to TribLive, Burrell football parent Tameka King-Buchak said her son identified an opposing player “who directly called him a racial slur.” She said she found it “disgusting” that the individual was allowed to remain in the game.

In her letter, King-Buchak detailed the situation that led to Liotta’s ejection.

“I observed my son coming off the field very upset screaming ‘every play, every play,’” she wrote. “My son paced the sidelines, being comforted by other players and coaches.”

King-Buchak said that after Liotta walked to midfield, officials threw penalty flags and ejected him.

“As our head coach left the field, he was yelling, ‘I’m not going to tolerate it. I’m not going to tolerate that type of behavior,’” she wrote. “My husband went to the sidelines to find out what was going on. He found out that the Mohawk team had been saying racial slurs, specifically the N-word to my son and out loud during the game.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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