New Kensington-Arnold to file complaints over racial harassment of football players
New Kensington-Arnold School District officials say they are fed up with racial harassment of their sports teams.
The district, with one of the highest minority populations in the Alle-Kiski Valley, plans to file complaints against the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the NAACP and the Department of Justice over what it says was indifference to racial slurs directed at the Valley High School football team.
The district also is appealing to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the WPIAL's parent organization, the decision to place the district's football program on probation.
The school board approved the actions Thursday, 7-0.
The one-game suspensions, against head coach William “Muzzy” Colosimo and four players, occurred following a Sept. 30 brawl during a football game between Valley and Ellwood City high schools at Valley's field in New Kensington.
The districts are not in the same conference and would very rarely play each other outside of playoffs, Ellwood City Superintendent Joseph Mancini said. They do not meet in any other sports.
The brawl broke out with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Colosimo, who also is the district's athletic director, and high school Principal Patrick Nee pulled Valley's team from the field rather than finish the game.
“They felt it was a safety issue,” Superintendent John Pallone said.
New Kensington-Arnold officials say the brawl was the result of racial slurs directed at Valley players throughout the game.
They contend the referees working that game neglected their obligation to stop the situation from continuing and escalating by failing to penalize the offending players for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“The WPIAL is turning a blind eye, generally, to unsportsmanlike conduct in regard to the racial divide and racial slurs,” Pallone said.
Pallone said the referees participated in an Oct. 3 hearing before the WPIAL board of directors, along with officials and coaches from both school districts.
“They said they didn't hear the slurs,” Pallone said of the referees. “Come on. We could hear them in the stands, and they can't hear them on the field?”
WPIAL Executive Director Tim O'Malley said the referees are with the PIAA, which districts independently contract with, and the WPIAL has no jurisdiction over them.
O'Malley disputed that the league suspended Colosimo or any players.
By rule, O'Malley said, players ejected from a game are ineligible to participate in the next game.
Because of refusing to finish the game, the WPIAL board of directors had suspended Valley from further participation in football playoffs — unless Colosimo was suspended for one game, O'Malley said.
O'Malley said Colosimo should not have pulled his team.
“Every game should be completed,” he said.
Pallone commended Colosimo for volunteering to accept the suspension even though he did not agree with it.
School board President Bob Pallone, John Pallone's brother, said nothing could be done about the suspensions since they have been served.
“I give them (Valley players) a lot of credit because they held themselves in check for almost four quarters before they finally broke,” Bob Pallone said.
The incident comes after the superintendent of the Brooke County, W.Va., school district had to apologize for a racially insensitive sign displayed by students there when their football team hosted the team from Pittsburgh Perry High School in September.
“They were terrible, terrible racial slurs,” said New Kensington-Arnold School Board member Kathleen Clarke, claiming she could hear them from her seat at the Ellwood City-Valley game. “I don't think the WPIAL really cares. Maybe if those kids were ejected, maybe it would stop.”
Referees ejected three Ellwood City players from the game, and the district then suspended two additional players, Mancini said.
Three served one-game suspensions, while two were suspended from two games.
Also, Ellwood City's coach was warned he would be suspended if there is another issue, and the team was put on probation for two years and could lose playoff eligibility if another incident happens, Mancini said.
Despite referees saying they did not hear any racial taunting, Mancini said his district is taking action.
“We don't want to be labeled as that,” he said. “Hopefully, we're sending that message to our student athletes.”
Mancini said the district is requiring all student-athletes to shake hands before the start of games, in addition to at the end. It is also developing a plan to promote sportsmanship.
“Whether it occurred or not, we're taking steps to head in the correct direction,” he said. “We're going to address it and make sure every one of our athletic teams know what the expectations are and how we present ourselves in public.”
Korina Cecchetti, a 2001 Valley graduate and district resident who has a young daughter in the school system, is circulating a petition. She is asking New Kensington-Arnold alumni and district residents to sign it in support of the football team and the school district and calling on the WPIAL to penalize racially divisive behavior by high school sports teams and coaches.
“The acts on the field the night of the Ellwood City-Valley football game do not represent what our football team and our school district is about,” Cecchetti said. “But what protection did the WPIAL officials afford them through recognition or non-recognition of such racial injustices?”
She said the incident is not the first in which such things have occurred.
“In this community, we have suffered great indifference and injustice for so long,” she said.
Bob Pallone agreed.
“It's been going on for quite a long time,” he said. “We're just not going to take it anymore. We want to bring attention to it, put a stop to it and give our kids the respect they deserve.”
Staff writer Brian C. Rittmeyer contributed to this report. Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.