WPIAL board approves eligibility request for pair of Burrell wrestlers

Thursday, July 12, 2018 | 8:45 PM

Nicholas Salerno and Shawn Szymanski, who transferred this summer from Plum to Burrell, are eligible to wrestle this winter.

The WPIAL board had waited to approve the transfers because the soon-to-be freshmen were linked with a wrestling club run by Burrell coaches, but those concerns were addressed at eligibility hearings Thursday in Green Tree.

At issue was whether the two had trained directly with Burrell coaches at The Mat Factory, which counts Chris Como and Josh Shields among its instructors. Shields is Burrell’s current coach and Como coached the team previously.

“The board wanted to ask some specific questions to clear up the association with the club,” WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said. “The explanation provided gave the board enough (confidence) … that their association with (The Mat Factory) program was not with Burrell personnel.”

Administrators at both schools already had approved the transfer.

What drew both Salerno and Szymanski to Burrell was a passionate desire to leave Plum and an affordable tuition at Burrell, their parents said. Chad and Pamela Salerno, and Jay and Dina Szymanski attended the afternoon hearings, along with administrators from Burrell, and Plum principal Justin Stephans. The two families didn’t move to Lower Burrell but instead are paying tuition to attend the public school.

“I started calling schools in maybe April, seeing if they would take tuition and how much money?” Pamela Salerno said. “The first phone calls went to public schools. And then I went to private schools like Kiski Prep, which wanted $60,000. I cannot afford $60,000, but I could afford $4,000.”

Franklin Regional and Kiski Area wouldn’t take tuition transfers, she said, and Highlands wanted $12,000, if there were any openings.

Chad Salerno said The Mat Factory instructors visited Plum’s wrestling room for workout sessions, but those interactions didn’t lead his son to Burrell. Szymanski said he took only jiu jitsu lessons from The Mat Factory.

“We went to Burrell because it was inexpensive,” Dina Szymanski said.

“He’s a Young Guns wrestler, and he has been for the last two and a half years,” said Szymanski’s father Jay, naming a rival club. “He’s not a Mat Factory wrestler. This was an academic decision and an affordability decision.”

In another hearing, the WPIAL board ruled ineligible Arely Valdez, a girls basketball player who transferred from Burgettstown to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

Burgettstown’s administration did not approve the transfer. Valdez’ hearing was closed at her family’s request.

“There appeared to be some dissatisfaction involving the basketball program,” O’Malley said. “The board was of the opinion that may have led to the transfer.”

An eligibility hearing for basketball standout Cali Konek was postponed at the request of Franklin Regional administrators, who had a scheduling conflict. Konek, a Division I recruit, transferred this summer from Southmoreland to Franklin Regional.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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