The regulating body for student athletics in the region directed two schools to train their boys' soccer teams and coaches in anti-discrimination, diversity and sensitivity after a Monday night hearing.
Pittsburgh’s Allderdice High School accused Connellsville Area High School players of using racial slurs, while Connellsville accused Allderdice players of using homophobic language in a Sept. 1 soccer game.
Players, athletic directors, coaches and principals testified in a closed door hearing Monday night to the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League at the DoubleTree hotel in Green Tree that lasted more than two hours. WPIAL announced its decision Tuesday morning. WPIAL leaders were not immediately available for comment after the release was distributed.
According to a WPIAL statement, both schools presented “credible evidence of their respective positions” and neither school requested that the other be punished.
“Rather, to their credit, both schools expressed a sincere desire to work together in eradicating the sort of unacceptable behavior their student-athletes are accused of engaging in,” according to the WPIAL release. “The WPIAL Board has thus decided to view the situation as an opportunity to educate and heal instead of punishing either school or their student-athletes.”
The schools will work with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of Pennsylvania to facilitate training. In the release, WPIAL officials also noted that schools, parents and guardians are obligated to ensure that student-athletes demonstrate good sportsmanship “including, but not limited to, refraining from the use of offensive language.”
According to Pittsburgh Public Schools, several Allderdice soccer players reported that Connellsville used racial slurs during the game. Some students also reported incidents of inappropriate touching.
PPS then filed a complaint with WPIAL, the regulating body for student athletics in the region.
“No student should be subjected to any racial slurs in a space that is to encourage healthy competition, teamwork and camaraderie,” Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said in a September statement.
Connellsville's superintendent Joseph Bradley said in a statement the district has been adamant that its students "were not found to have engaged in the alleged inappropriate conduct throughout the game, and are confident that everyone in the hearing was able to draw similar conclusions."
According to Bradley, Connellsville players allege that Allderdice players used homophobic slurs durign the game. He said he is hopeful that the resolution from WPIAL will "provide both teams with the tools needed to avoid such accusations moving forward."
Allderdice parents created an online petition and a public letter in September saying Connellsville players “goaded one black and one Latino member of the Allderdice team with racial slurs.”
The letter noted that this was the second time in two years that Connellsville’s boys’ soccer players were accused of using racial slurs. Last year, Connellsville went through a similar hearing process when Penn Hills players alleged that players had used racial slurs in a soccer game.
In September 2018, WPIAL ruled that the Connellsville soccer players likely made racially insensitive comments. It did not levy penalties against the school, but required the district to conduct racial and cultural sensitivity training with student-athletes.
“So why are we here again? Why has another group of boys been subjected to racist taunting from Connellsville without redress? Why is WPIAL passive in the face of credible complaints of racial insults, here surrounded by corroborating circumstances and an established pattern of similar conduct by the offending team?” the letter signed by Allderdice parents reads.
The parents say they want WPIAL to strengthen and enforce policies and provide implicit bias training and anti-racism training to all league personnel and officials to ensure that game officials will effectively respond to reports of racial slurs during game play.
Sumaya Mahmoud says her son, an Allderdice soccer player, was the target of racial slurs. She said Monday night before the hearing concluded that she hopes the results of the hearing will be impactful and will address ongoing concerns from parents in terms of appropriate actions.
Mahmoud says she is proud of how her son handled the situation. She said he was very upset, but continued to play the game.
“Even still, it’s something he has to carry with him and learn how to process and know that going forward he is not what other people think of him. As long as he works on having a strong sense of self and being confident in who he is as a player and as a human being then that is what needs to carry him forward and hopefully he is a good example for other players out there,” she said.
After Allderdice soccer coach Sam Bellin gave the WPIAL board his testimony he said he wants to see Connellsville formally apologize to his players.
“For sure they are taking no accountability for their students’ actions. I don’t want to say anything stronger than that. I’m very disappointed with everything having to do with Connellsville from the moment that game kicked off until right now,” Bellin said.
After he gave his testimony to the WPIAL he told reporters that he wants WPIAL to hold Connellsville accountable. He questioned why the hearing happened after Connellsville’s season ended as he said the necessary penalties would have had an impact during the season.