WPIAL denies Penn Hills’ appeal, upholds suspension of football coach Jon LeDonne

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Monday, January 21, 2019 | 8:03 PM


Where there’s smoke, there’s ire.

A mandatory one-game suspension levied against Penn Hills football coach Jon LeDonne remains in place, as does the other discipline the WPIAL handed down last month. The WPIAL board heard an appeal Monday from LeDonne and Penn Hills administrators, but rejected their request to change the punishment.

The WPIAL wants LeDonne suspended because two of his players ignored a WPIAL directive and ignited a smoke device before the WPIAL Class 5A championship Nov. 23 at Norwin.

“(The WPIAL board) felt that the coach is responsible for the actions of his players,” WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said. “Hence, there’s a consequence for what they did.”

The vote was unanimous, O’Malley said. If Penn Hills doesn’t suspend LeDonne, the football team won’t be allowed to participate in the WPIAL playoffs next season.

Penn Hills can appeal to the PIAA.

In all, the WPIAL discipline includes:

  • A one-game suspension for LeDonne.
  • Sportsmanship education class for the football coaching staff.
  • A one-year probation for the football program.
  • Censure of the administration and football staff.

The smoke hovered over the field at Norwin Knights Stadium minutes before Penn Hills faced West Allegheny in the championship. Penn Hills had created a similar smoke cloud before its semifinal game a week earlier, so the WPIAL reminded the school that it was not permitted at the championship.

“Ultimately the board felt that the head football coach is in charge of his program,” O’Malley said. “The fact that there was admitted refusal to follow directives, someone’s responsible.”

Penn Hills principal Eric Kostic, athletic director Stephanie Strauss and LeDonne testified during Monday’s hearing in Green Tree that they told the football team not to repeat the smoke cloud for the championship.

Their orders weren’t followed.

“Clearly this was an act of insubordination,” Penn Hills superintendent Nancy Hines said at the hearing. “The two students whom we’ve identified did not follow the clear WPIAL directive. We make absolutely no excuses for that. It just never should have happened. … However, we don’t feel that the (WPIAL-imposed) sanction adequately or appropriately addresses what happened.”

Hines said the violation was not LeDonne’s fault, and instead proposed discipline for the students that could be educational.

She suggested that the entire Penn Hills football team could attend a fireworks safety course, to explain why the WPIAL ban exists. Also, Hines recommended mandatory community service to benefit fire victims or individuals with breathing disorders.

However, the WPIAL board questioned her why, almost two months later, those steps weren’t already taken?

“You don’t need our permission to do that,” WPIAL president Scott Seltzer said. “Those types of things you want to do, I agree with.”

Overall, WPIAL board members were critical of the discipline Penn Hills had administered itself. Questioned by Seltzer and board member Leonard Rich, Kostic testified that the actions were a violation of the student code of conduct and possibly a “suspendable” offense, but said that district policy concerning discipline wasn’t followed in this case.

The students were allowed to participate in the WPIAL championship along with each of the team’s PIAA playoff games. Penn Hills won WPIAL and PIAA titles, and LeDonne was named the state’s Class 5A coach of the year in a vote by Pennsylvania sports writers.

According to LeDonne, the two players who created the smoke were punished at practice by pushing weights the length of the field. Asked if that was enough, LeDonne said: “Have you ever pushed plates 100 yards for 30 minutes?”

The players were checked and didn’t have any smoke grenades in the locker room, Kostic said, but the devices were later handed to them as they took the field. Both players involved were seniors.

“Throughout that (championship) week I had visited with individuals — especially the seniors, the captains — and said this cannot happen,” Kostic said. “It’s a safety hazard and we’ve been directed not to allow it.”

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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