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Police chief disputes racial slur allegations against Connellsville soccer team

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Celeste Van Kirk | Trib Total Media
Connellsville School Board President Jon Detwiler said students in the senior high school take pride in their new building and seem to police one another to keep it clean. There are 1,205 students in ninth through 12th grade, according to Connellsville Area School District.

Connellsville’s police chief said Penn Hills soccer players weren’t telling the truth when they accused students, fans and players of hurling racial slurs at them during a recent varsity game.

“I swear on my kids’ lives it didn’t happen,” said Bill Hammerle, who also is the father of two Connellsville varsity soccer players.

Penn Hills School District canceled all games Tuesday against Connellsville Area School District amid reports that Connellsville students, fans and players directed racial slurs at Penn Hills players during a Sept. 6 boys’ soccer game.

In an email Thursday, Penn Hills Superintendent Nancy Hines stood by that decision. She declined to comment further, citing an open investigation with the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.

The alleged incident prompted the WPIAL to request a written report from Connellsville’s administration that details the allegations and the school’s planned response.

WPIAL’s executive director, Tim O’Malley, said the league’s board will review the incident at its meeting on Monday.

Connellsville Superintendent Joseph Bradley is appreciative of the support from the Connellsville community.

“We appreciate all of the community support and the community’s unsolicited willingness to share their accounts of the game with the WPIAL,” he wrote in an email. “CASD eagerly awaits the findings and recommendations of the WPIAL in regards to these allegations.”

Bradley did not say whether he agreed with Hammerle’s recollection of the game and did not offer details about what the district found in its investigation of the incident.

Hammerle, 55, of Connellsville, strongly denied that any racial slurs were used on the field and in the stands.

“I sat there at the whole game – not one time was the n-word used,” he said, adding that he sat about 20 to 30 yards from the student section. “I never heard any of that. If I heard it, I would have been (upset).”

Hammerle said it was the Penn Hills players who acted out of line.

“I’ve never seen players act like the Penn Hills players acted on that field,” he said. “They were screaming and yelling at all of our kids.”

Lisa Silverman, the Penn Hills parent who criticized referees for not “addressing the racial hatred directed at our players” in a letter provided to the Tribune-Review, said she stands by the Penn Hills players. Silverman was not at the Sept. 6 game.

“This is happening all over the entire United States and this is one incident. … I stand by the kids,” Silverman said.

Her son, Jonah, who is white, is on the Penn Hills soccer team. He told the Trib this week that Connellsville players called one of the black Penn Hills players slurs shortly after the first goal was scored 15 minutes into the game.

He also said that racial slurs were directed at all of the team’s black players during the game and again at one black player as the Penn Hills team made its way to the bus.

“I wanted to draw attention to the pervasiveness of it,” Lisa Silverman said of her letter. “I’ve heard too many similar stories to not go with what the kids had to say.”

Jeff Rowan, 64, of Connellsville, said racial slurs could have happened out on the field, but that it was unlikely and that he’d be surprised if racial slurs were used.

“The high school coach would never put up with it,” he said. “Is it impossible for it to happen? No – teens are teens. They can do stupid things. But would I expect it? No.”

He also said he did not hear racial slurs from fans or the student section.

Rowan, who is pastor at Connellsville Church of Christ, also is an assistant coach of the boys’ junior high soccer team and works part time as a WPIAL soccer referee. He has refereed soccer since 1996, he said.

“If I hear players who use the f-word, or they’re swearing at anybody – or if you use the n-word – anything racial would be considered, ‘no, not gonna fly.’ That’s rude, unnecessary and abusive,” Rowan said.

Bill Sinning, a WPIAL male officials representative from Pittsburgh’s South Hills, declined to name the three referees who officiated the Sept. 6 game.

“But I have a detailed report from each official, which will be reviewed on Monday,” Sinning said, referencing the WPIAL board meeting. He said it is WPIAL’s protocol to receive a written report from each school and all referees involved whenever incidents like this are reported.

He said he has read each official’s report and that each school has forwarded their reports. Sinning, one of the 20 members of the WPIAL Board of Directors, said he has not read the school district’s reports. He did not offer details in the officials’ reports.

However, he said, “It’s vastly different (than the allegations) and that will be made remarkably clear at Monday’s meeting,” he said.

“This is a routine procedure that we follow when something like this happens,” Sinning said. “We’ve done it purely by the books.”

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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