Washington rolls the dice with Blystone

October 8, 2013

Talk about a tough road to the playoffs. The fortunes of Washington High School’s football team will be decided on the football field and the courtroom.

The Prexies can’t afford a loss at either venue.

On Friday night, Mt. Pleasant arrives for crucial Class AA Interstate Conference football game at Wash High Stadium.

In the meantime, a hearing will be held soon at the Washington County Courthouse concerning the eligibility of Zach Blystone, a 6-3, 265-pound offensive lineman. The outcome of the hearing could affect not only the outcome against Mt. Pleasant and future outcomes on the schedule, but also last week’s result against Brownsville, in which Blystone played.

Blystone has been ruled ineligible by the PIAA, but the family is fighting the ruling. At Monday night’s meeting, the Washington School Board decided to stand with Blystone.

“I was happy to hear that,” said Joe Francis, the attorney representing Blystone. “I was not surprised. I have a little bit of knowledge about the Washington School Board and the approach they take. So it’s not surprising that they would support someone (like Zach). What’s right is right.”

Mike Bosnic, Washington’s football coach, said he was not surprised by the school district’s decision to support Blystone.

“The school supports us and feels the way we do about this,” he said. “Anything can happen, but I feel the right thing is being done here, and Zach is being afforded a chance to play. I felt the initial ruling was unfair and unjust.”

This situation arose because of the eligibility fight over Blystone, who transferred from Charleroi High School to Washington this year. The transfer was challenged by Charleroi and, at an eligibility hearing by the WPIAL, the junior was ruled ineligible when the WPIAL Board of Control decided the transfer was made for athletic intent.

Francis said the Blystones had considered moving since their son was in eighth grade. He said the family suddenly had the means when PennDOT purchased much of the family land.

“The PIAA board’s decision was made off the determination that Charleroi was credible in arguing there was athletic intent in his motivation,” Francis said. “He wanted to leave for two years, and now he had the chance.”

Wash High appealed to the PIAA and Blystone was given a hearing at the PIAA offices, where the board of control upheld the WPIAL ruling that Blystone transferred for athletic intent. The Blystone family asked for a second meeting with the PIAA board of control and the parties met last week with the same outcome: the PIAA denied Blystone’s eligibility.

The Blystone family then asked for, and received, a preliminary injunction from Common Please Judge John F. DiSalle 4 p.m. Friday, three hours before the kickoff for the game against Brownsville. DiSalle originally scheduled a hearing on Thursday to decide further action on the injunction. But that hearing was postponed and had not been rescheduled as of Tuesday evening. It is expected to be held in the next few days.

DiSalle can lift the injunction or make it permanent. Representatives from the PIAA will be at the hearing.

“We will not interfere with the court order,” said PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi. “If the court order is lifted, and the PIAA prevails, the school would be forced to forfeit any games (Blystone) participated in, which is according to our by-laws.”

If DiSalle issues a permanent injunction, Lombardi said the PIAA would appeal to commonwealth court. If successful there, the PIAA could strip Wash High’s football team of any wins in games that Blystone participated. Blystone’s eligibility for next season also could be affected.

“I am confident he will remain eligible for the remainder of the year,” said Francis. “Judge DiSalle learned some important matters at the motions court. Though it was a temporary manner to our overall request, the judge heard some things that were very telling.”

At Monday night’s meeting, the Washington School Board agreed to support the Blystone family in their attempts to keep Zach Blystone on the field. The board could have forced Blystone to sit out the remaining games until he regains eligibility next season. After the board’s decision to support him, Blystone shook the hand of each member to show his appreciation. Most of Blystone’s teammates and Bosnic were in attendance as a show of support. Bosnic does not believe this is a major distraction.

“When you deal with high school kids, you always have distractions,” he said. “We deal with those things all the time. My job is to keep them focused.”

Efforts to reach a spokesman for the school district Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling. He has worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Jeannette News-Dispatch and North Hills Record. He graduated from Duquesne University in 1980.

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