Suspended Shady Side Academy coach Jonna Burke files lawsuit against PIAA

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Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | 11:39 AM


Shady Side Academy girls basketball coach Jonna Burke, who’s facing a one-year suspension for an alleged recruiting violation, has sued the PIAA seeking an injunction that would let her coach.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court, Burke’s attorney, Kendra Smith, said the WPIAL violated due process rights during a July 20 hearing that found Burke broke PIAA recruiting rules. Smith said Burke was forced to defend herself against “unspecified allegations,” since the WPIAL did not provide Burke or the school a written copy of the complaint prior to the hearing date.

In addition, the lawsuit said PIAA guidelines for hearings were not followed when the WPIAL made Shady Side Academy testify first, without a case being presented by the accusing school, South Fayette.

“In failing to follow its own rules, the WPIAL Committee wrongfully placed the burden of proof on Coach Burke and/or found that South Fayette met its initial burden taking evidence outside of the hearing or without taking any evidence at all,” Smith wrote.

She also contends the PIAA has no recruiting rules specific to social media use.

The lawsuit was filed by both Burke and Shady Side Academy. They’re seeking a preliminary injunction and ultimately a permanent injunction that would remove the suspension.

The PIAA did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Burke was suspended for sending a direct message on Twitter to the parents of a junior high girls basketball player at South Fayette. The girl’s parents had each followed Burke on the social media platform, now called X, and she sent them a private message offering to tell them more about Shady Side.

“I am really impressed with (your daughter),” Burke wrote to them, according to hearing testimony. “I’ve seen the highlights she posted and love her athleticism! If you have any interest in Shady Side Academy I’d love to have the opportunity to talk to (you) guys about it.”

The parents did not respond, and Burke said she had no further contact with them or the girl, but the WPIAL board voted 12-0 to suspend Burke for a recruiting violation. The PIAA upheld her suspension on appeal Aug. 22.

Smith had argued that because the girl’s parents each chose to follow Burke’s social media account, the parents initiated the inquiry, and therefore Burke was permitted to send them a message in response. The lawsuit filed Tuesday reiterates that position.

Burke’s lawsuit also contends that the PIAA violated its own rules on appeal hearings by considering evidence not already on the record. Since South Fayette didn’t present a case at the WPIAL hearing, there were no facts in evidence to refute Burke’s testimony, the lawsuit contends.

Burke’s side brought a court reporter to the WPIAL hearing.

With more than 500 career wins in 28 seasons, Burke is one of the most successful active girls basketball coaches in the WPIAL.

Shady Side Academy went 25-4 last winter in Burke’s second season with the Bulldogs and reached the state quarterfinals in Class 3A. A former college basketball player at Pitt, Burke previously coached at Butler and Bethel Park, her alma mater, before being hired as a coach and physical education teacher at Shady Side in 2021.

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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