Fight mars final minute of Imani Christian-Steel Valley football game

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Saturday, September 16, 2023 | 6:34 PM


The WPIAL will look into an on-field fight that marred the final minute of Friday night’s football game between Imani Christian and Steel Valley.

WPIAL executive director Scott Seltzer said the league will request information from the schools’ administrations, including available video, as well as review reports from the game officials.

The Allegheny Conference contest was played at Graham Field in Wilkinsburg. With about 40 seconds left, a fight started on the Imani Christian sideline after a Steel Valley player ended up on the Saints’ bench. Video posted to social media showed at least one Imani player throwing punches in the skirmish.

Both coaches said no players were seriously injured.

“All of my kids are extremely embarrassed and apologizing,” said Imani Christian coach LaRoi Johnson, who spoke with his players Saturday. “It’s something that didn’t need to happen. It was a good game on both sides. Both teams played extremely hard. It just didn’t need to end that way.”

Steel Valley coach Ray Braszo said the incident started when one of his defensive backs was roughed up on the Imani sideline. He said there had been no issue with dirty play before the fight.

“More or less, it seems they ran him to the fence,” Braszo said. “The next thing we know, people were punching him. … And then all hell broke loose.”

Braszo said other Steel Valley players came to their teammate’s defense. An online video appears to shows a Steel Valley player lifting up and slamming an Imani opponent to the ground.

“I feel like our team, honestly, was just trying to protect each other and get the heck away from there,” Braszo said. “I think it started on their side. That’s my opinion.”

Braszo said the other Steel Valley players not in the game remained on their sideline, across the field from the incident. One player from each team was ejected, he said.

The fence separating the home bench from the stands is short and some spectators might have gotten involved, Braszo said. He said Steel Valley’s video of the incident didn’t capture the fight.

Johnson, who was separating players in the melee, said he didn’t know whether fans were involved.

The final seconds were run off the clock and Steel Valley won, 17-6.

“We don’t want this to be something that is representative of us,” Johnson said of the Imani Christian team. “Our kids are definitely apologizing. The kid who threw the punches is extremely distraught about it because he doesn’t want that to represent him or his family like that.”

The two teams involved are among the most talented in WPIAL Class 2A. Steel Valley is the defending WPIAL champion, and Imani Christian has a couple of the top college prospects in Western Pennsylvania.

With the final minute ticking away, Steel Valley had all but clinched the victory. Johnson called this a teaching moment for his Imani Christian players.

He said some players would be disciplined.

“We have to understand the moment better,” Johnson said. “We’re a young team. We’ve got a lot of guys that this is their first time playing varsity football. There’s (a difference between) playing football and understanding how to play football. That’s something we’re learning as the season goes along.”

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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