WPIAL disciplines South Side, Steel Valley football after hearing on racial allegations

Wednesday, February 2, 2022 | 9:00 AM

The South Side and Steel Valley football teams must complete educational training organized by the WPIAL to “further develop cultural competency” after their playoff game in November ended with accusations of unsportsmanlike conduct and racial slurs.

If not completed, the WPIAL board can impose a variety of additional disciplinary options, WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said, up to banning teams from the postseason.

“The WPIAL took the accusations very seriously, as racism in any form is unacceptable,” she said.

The WPIAL board reached its decision after listening to four hours of testimony Tuesday from players, coaches, school administrators and game officials involved in the Nov. 12 contest in Munhall. The schools were notified Wednesday of the WPIAL’s decision.

In a written statement, the WPIAL said its board “recognizes the need for systemic change on racism and the educational awareness of all stakeholders involved with interscholastic athletics. Racial slurs and other inexcusable behavior have no place in high school athletics or society in general, and will not be tolerated by the WPIAL.”

Fourteen board members and five members of the WPIAL Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council took part in the closed-door hearing held in a conference room at the DoubleTree in Green Tree. The schools combined brought around 30 people.

“The board identified a number of missteps on the part of multiple adults in the situation, which contributed to the situation escalating to this level,” Scheuneman said. “In conjunction with the Diversity and Inclusion Council, the board will be requiring an educational component for students, coaches and administrators as a way to further develop cultural competency and identify appropriate reporting procedures for items such as these.”

The WPIAL didn’t identify the individuals accused of missteps.

The allegations first came to the WPIAL’s attention in a report Steel Valley administrators filed in November, accusing South Side’s football team of what Steel Valley superintendent Edward Wehrer described then as “racial bigotry and unsportsmanlike play.” In response, South Side hired an outside consultant to conduct its investigation into the allegations and provide a written report to the WPIAL.

“We are asking both schools (to complete the training),” Scheuneman said. “I know that might come as a bit of a surprise, but the situation was not good on either end.”

Tuesday’s hearing was delayed twice in recent weeks because of covid issues involving the schools’ attorneys.

Scheuneman declined to discuss specifics about the schools’ reports or Tuesday’s testimony, since the hearing was closed to the media at the schools’ request.

However, Scheuneman said the WPIAL found no evidence to support claims that South Side players were intentionally targeting Steel Valley opponents to cause injury. She also refuted allegations that one of the officials used racial epithets.

“The board did not find that to be accurate,” Scheuneman said.

Steel Valley won the game 28-12, but the win was a painful one. The Ironmen lost running back Nijhay Burt to an ankle injury early in the game. The senior was the WPIAL’s leading rusher at the time. He was among the football players in attendance Tuesday.

The WPIAL in 2018 held a similar hearing for racial allegations related to a boys soccer game between Connellsville and Penn Hills. In 2019, the WPIAL held another hearing, that time for Connellsville and Allderdice boys soccer.

Proving what was or wasn’t said on the field can be difficult, so a goal Tuesday was to find a constructive path forward, Scheuneman said. She praised contributions provided by the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council.

“We don’t want to walk away saying you’re right and you’re wrong, but we need to learn from this,” she said. “We need to all work together to make that happen.”

Scheuneman said the WPIAL will organize a program in the coming days for South Side and Steel Valley to complete together. However, she said the WPIAL believes the program needs to educate more than the two schools involved.

“The board will be developing ways to spread this message,” Scheuneman said, “to all officials, schools and coaches over the coming months.”

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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