PIAA rules Gateway QB Brad Birch eligible, returns Seton LaSalle appeal to WPIAL

Wednesday, June 2, 2021 | 3:38 PM

The PIAA overturned one WPIAL decision and told the WPIAL board to reconsider another.

Gateway freshman Brad Birch, a football standout who transferred from Jeannette, was ruled eligible Wednesday following an appeal hearing with the PIAA, reversing a WPIAL decision that would’ve made Birch ineligible for one year.

Separately, the PIAA was scheduled to hear an appeal from Seton LaSalle regarding suspended football coaches Mauro Monz and Jason Pinkston, but that hearing didn’t happen Wednesday. Instead the issue was sent back to the WPIAL for another hearing at the district level, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said.

The five-person panel that heard Gateway’s appeal voted unanimously to make Birch eligible, reversing the WPIAL decision from last month. At issue was whether Birch’s participation in a 7-on-7 football team or his desire to take private quarterback instruction from Gateway’s coach led to his transfer.

Birch is a quarterback who already has a scholarship offer from Oregon.

“There were some concerning issues for the appeal board, but there was no hard evidence offered that supported the (WPIAL finding of an) athletically motivated transfer,” Lombardi said.

As a result, Birch is fully eligible. Because he transferred prior to 10th grade, the PIAA’s postseason rule doesn’t apply, making him eligible for the playoffs next fall.

Lombardi described much of the evidence as “coincidental.”

The WPIAL held a combined hearing May 3 for brothers Brad and Brett Birch, and the board reached a different decision on each. Older brother Brett Birch was ruled eligible. The two had transferred in March, and Jeannette administrators flagged their transfers as potentially motivated by athletics.

Their father, Bob Birch, had said the move was not related to football. A new job required him to travel, so he preferred his sons live with their mother in the Gateway School District. The parents are divorced.

“It’s a family-related financial issue,” Bob Birch told the Tribune-Review in March. “I just want what is best for the boys. My job requires some travel, and I can’t be (home) all the time. Sometimes financial issues arise, and family takes precedence over people wanting to win football games.”

A message left for Bob Birch wasn’t returned Wednesday.

Gateway athletic director and football coach Don Holl referred questions to principal Justin Stephans, who couldn’t be reached.

Brad Birch passed for 1,676 yards and 30 touchdowns last fall. Jeannette won the WPIAL title and finished as state runner-up in Class A.

In the other case, Seton LaSalle coaches Monz and Pinkston are facing year suspensions for recruiting violations, according to the WPIAL. The WPIAL handed down the discipline after a hearing March 30, during which four schools raised accusations against the first-year coaches.

Their appeal was scheduled for Wednesday, before Seton LaSalle asked to present new evidence.

“The appeal board took that into consideration and remanded it back to District 7 (WPIAL) at the request of the school, for a rehearing and additional evidence to be presented,” Lombardi said.

WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said the league will schedule another hearing in the coming weeks. The WPIAL could uphold its previous decision or lessen the discipline.

“If it’s a favorable decision (for Seton LaSalle), it will probably end there,” Lombardi said of the appeal process. “If it’s an unfavorable decision, the school has the ability to appeal (to the PIAA).”

Along with the two coach suspensions, Seton LaSalle principal Lauren Martin and the school’s administration were publicly admonished by the WPIAL “for their lack of institutional oversight.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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