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State representative plans legislation for separate public, private school playoffs

Chris Harlan
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Mars Area is reflected in their runner-up trophy after their game against Neumann-Goretti during the PIAA Class AAA boys basketball championship on Friday, March 18, 2016 at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. Neumann-Goretti won 99-66.

Public high school advocates leading the boundary vs. nonboundary debate were surprised to learn that a state representative is introducing legislation to create separate playoffs.

State Rep. Scott Conklin scheduled a news conference Thursday night in State College to “unveil legislation that would allow the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association the authority to establish separate playoffs and championships for public and private schools,” according to an announcement by Conklin’s office.

The public school advocates — named the Pennsylvania Athletics Equity Committee — have talked with numerous state legislators during their grassroots effort to create separate playoffs, but the Centre County Democrat wasn’t among them.

“Initially, it was a bit of a surprise because we hadn’t spoken with (Rep.) Conklin at all,” said Mill Creek superintendent Bill Hall, a PAEC organizer. “We didn’t know him. And then all of a sudden we get this news that he’s announcing legislation. So, yeah, it kind of caught us by surprise.”

Hall, Laurel superintendent Leonard Rich and others have talked in recent months with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and State Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Beaver/Butler/Lawrence) to reach a compromise acceptable for all schools. Hall was concerned Conklin’s bill could hurt those talks, but said he “felt better” after speaking directly with Conklin on Thursday.

“The information he gave me sounds like it’s pretty similar to what we’ve been asking for,” Hall said, “which is some legislation that would amend the 1972 law and allow the PIAA to crown separate private and public champions.”

The public school advocates want to split so-called boundary and nonboundary schools into separate postseason tournaments, insisting the current competitive landscape is unfair to traditional public schools.

Nonboundary schools are private, parochial and charter schools.

The PAEC organized a “PIAA Playoff Equity Summit” last summer in State College that fueled what was an already heated debate. However, the PIAA has consistently countered that separate playoffs are not allowed under state legislation from 1972, which granted private schools full membership in the PIAA.

PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi reiterated in December that “the 1972 legislation directing PIAA to accept private schools as PIAA members was specifically intended to result in championship competition between the public and private schools.

“Unless and until the General Assembly, or its Athletic Oversight Committee, provides an opinion to PIAA suggesting that our interpretation is incorrect, PIAA will not act contrary to this legislative intent.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.