Penn Hills, Connellsville accept WPIAL findings regarding alleged racial slurs at soccer game

Wednesday, September 26, 2018 | 10:54 AM

Penn Hills School District said it will play Connellsville again after a WPIAL investigation found Wednesday that racial slurs were possibly directed at Penn Hills players during a soccer game between both varsity teams.

WPIAL officials said Wednesday that they couldn’t say with certainty that slurs were used by Connellsville boys soccer players at a Sept. 6 game against Penn Hills.

However, the WPIAL board of directors found the testimony of the Penn Hills players credible and believed it was “likely that at least some racial slurs or racially insensitive comments were directed to a Penn Hills player or players.”

“Based on the information in the credible testimony of the Penn Hills players, there were in all probability some negative interactions in the field,” WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said. “But it was the board’s position that they were in all probability isolated and not reflective of the Connellsville boys soccer program or their school.”

Penn Hills superintendent Nancy Hines agreed with WPIAL’s statement that the conduct at issue didn’t reflect on the district, school and boys soccer team as a whole. Connellsville superintendent Joseph Bradley applauded WPIAL for that comment.

The WPIAL also is requiring Connellsville Area School District to hire an outside consultant to address and train its student-athletes regarding racial and cultural sensitivities. Bradley said the district will comply.

The reports of racial slurs directed at black players from Connellsville students, fans and players prompted the Penn Hills administration to cancel all athletic events against Connellsville pending an investigation.

The two boys soccer teams were scheduled to play against each other Tuesday at Penn Hills.

“The Penn Hills School District remains mindful of our role to teach students more than academics,” Hines wrote in a statement Wednesday. “Beyond that role, we have the responsibility to teach our students how to live in and, ideally, thrive in a diverse society that is not always kind.”

Hines also outlined steps for coaches and athletes to take to avoid similar incidents.

Students and coaches representing Penn Hills should represent the community “with dignity and pride, and to expect our opponents to do the same,” she wrote.

She encouraged athletes to notify a coach, a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association official or any school official on site immediately if abusive behavior is experienced or witnessed. Coaches and school officials should work with PIAA officials to address the concerns. If officials do not adequately address the concerns, Hines said coaches and school officials have the district’s support to stop playing, leave the field or court and come home.

If that ever happens, she said, administration will become involved.

Bradley said he respects the WPIAL’s determination, and the district will submit its action plan as required.

“We are all very sensitive to racial tension that exists across our country and CASD will continue to seize teachable moments such as these, as we strive to achieve racial awareness and tolerance, as we believe all schools should be doing,” Bradley said in an emailed statement.

The WPIAL heard from two dozen witnesses, read reports from both schools and watched video from the game in question. The comments were between competitors on the field, O’Malley said, adding that the investigation did not uncover evidence that Connellsville’s students or spectators in the stands were involved in any racial taunts.

Staff writer Chris Harlan contributed. Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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