At a special meeting Friday afternoon, Washington School Board voted 5-0 to not permit Zach Blystone to participate on the school’s varsity football team until his eligibility issues are resolved.
The board originally decided at Monday’s regular meeting to support Blystone. But as more information became available to its members, the board called for yesterday’s meeting to revisit the decision.
Wash High’s football team could be forced to forfeit games that Blystone played in if the family’s attempts to keep him eligible through a court order fails. Blystone could have his eligibility restored for next football season.
The Prexies are currently undefeated and in first place in the Class AA Interstate Conference and are expected to make a long run in the WPIAL playoffs. Blystone played in last week’s victory over Brownsville, but that win could be forfeited if Blystone loses his fight.
Following a 40-minute executive session, board president James Fine said in part: “After considering all of the legal, factual circumstances involving the likelihood of success in establishing the eligibility of (Blystone) and the risk to the football team of having success in the playoffs, for the best interests of the team, the students and the Washington School District, it is the decision of the board that (Blystone) shall not be permitted to participate in football until his eligibility is determined.”
Dr. Roberta DiLorenzo, superintendent of Washington School District, said the board’s decision was made for “the majority of the team.
“After being able to digest the myriad information that comes down in a case like this, and having our solicitors researching what are the odds of winning against the PIAA – they are slim to none – the decision, as difficult as it is, becomes do we support one student’s efforts at the expense of the team’s efforts? We certainly support each of our students, but the job of the board and the superintendent is to look out for the good of the whole.”
Following the board’s announcement, Blystone’s father, Kent, left the meeting and was not available for comment.
Joe Francis, the Blystones’ attorney and a Washington High School graduate, said it was too early to say what the next move should be.
“Without having spoken to the family … I can’t comment on what direction we will proceed,” he said. “I still believe the injunction stands a reasonable chance to be upheld in the appeals court.
“I think the PIAA, with the authority and power they possess, has caused great concern for the school board. The school board is concerned about the consequences to the team and to Zach.”
Francis said it was disappointing the school board “seems to be bowing to the PIAA.
“The district had virtually the same information when they gave the vote of confidence (Monday). Today, not much has changed.”
Blystone, a 6-3, 265-pound junior lineman, has been denied eligibility three times – once by the WPIAL and twice by the PIAA – after transferring from Charleroi High School to Washington in August. At each of the three eligibility hearings, those boards decided that Blystone’s transfer was made for athletic intent.
The Blystone family asked for and received a preliminary injunction in Common Pleas Court by Judge John F. DiSalle to permit their son to play football. A hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday to decide whether to make the injunction permanent. PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi said the organization would appeal to Commonwealth Court if the preliminary injunction was made permanent. The PIAA has been very successful in previous litigation at the Commonwealth Court level.
Washington athletic director Joe Nicolella said he spoke with Lombardi this week to clarify the issue:
“I said to him, ‘Should the PIAA prevail, then Washington High School could stand to lose any games that Zach Blystone plays in.’ His reply was that I was almost correct. He said the PIAA will – and he stressed the word will – cause Washington High School to forfeit its games, and he added, ‘Joe, we will win in Commonwealth Court.’”
Tim Relich, an associate solicitor for the school district, said DiSalle’s decision at Tuesday’s hearing will be made on a number of issues.
“One of them is the likelihood that if this case continues on … would it succeed on its merits?” Relich said. “In other words, how good is this case? He has to prove the PIAA decision was either fraudulent, infringed on a monetary or property right or was capricious or arbitrary discrimination.”
In their petition to the court of Common Pleas, the Blystone family said they have been attempting to move out of the area for two years, but only recently were able to afford it because PennDOT purchased a large portion of their property in Charleroi.
They indicated in the petition that their son was struggling with poor grades and has had a number of juvenile offenses. They also expressed concerns that their son was in the company of friends who “were also engaged in a wide array of inappropriate activities …” In the petition, the Blystones indicated that Washington would be a more suitable facility for his educational needs.
Wash High football coach Mike Bosnic was at the meeting and became emotional after the board’s decision was revealed.
“I had no idea what the meeting was about,” he said. “I did figure it had to be about the Blystone case, so I wasn’t caught off guard. I respect the school’s decision, and I respect the people who had to make the tough decision. What hurts is … this is hurting the kid.”
Bosnic said the team will not let this become a distraction.
“I thnk we’ve established with our football program at our school that Wash High is special, and we’re going to fight through any type of adversity. We’re going to do everything we can to prevail, and we’ll leave it all out on the field. When we’re faced with adversity, we’re going to come together as a team and as a school.
“Zach is in a good place. He fits in well at school with the kids and the team. There are some things in place that are going to allow him to be very successful. He’s got a very bright future.”