When the Washington School Board scheduled a special meeting to discuss the transfer issues surrounding one of its students, Zach Blystone, everyone had to know what was coming.
School boards don’t call special meetings to affirm what happened at a previous meeting.
The Washington School Board affirmed its support to Blystone at Monday’s meeting, then decided it might not be such a good idea for Blystone to play in Friday night’s game against Mount Pleasant and any other games until his eligibility questions have been cleared up.
Once all the arguments are are made, all the court action taken, and this case comes to a conclusion, there would be no doubt about the outcome.
Washington is going to lose this fight.
Blystone, a 6-3, 265-pound junior lineman, transferred to Washington High School from Charleroi during the summer. Charleroi challenged the transfer and Blystone was ruled ineligible by the WPIAL and PIAA because those organizations concluded at different hearings the move was made for athletic intent, which violates their by-laws.
Blystone became eligible to play again when Common Pleas Court Judge John F. DiSalle granted a preliminary injunction Oct. 4. Blystone played that night against Brownsvile.
There is no guarantee the preliminary injunction will become permanent. That will be decided at a hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Washington Court House. Even if it is made permanent, the PIAA assured all parties it would appeal to Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania to get the injunction lifted.
Here is the important part: the PIAA is almost always successful in Commonwealth Court with these appeals.
That would mean Wash High’s football team would likely be forced to forfeit every game Blystone played in as this process ran through the courts.
As Dr. Robert Lombardi, the executive director of the PIAA told Wash High’s athletic director Joe Nicolella last week, “We will win in Commonwealth Court.”
If, say, the PIAA was successful in its appeal in Commonwealth Court and the Prexies were playing in the WPIAL semifinals, they would be forced to forfeit not only that game but every other one that Blystone appeared in. That would be a huge risk for the school district to take in allowing Blystone to play.
The interesting part to this story is that, from this vantage point, everyone is right.
While they could have handled the transfer process better, the Blystone family was right to be concerned about the future of their son and to try to rectify that situation. According to a petition the family presented to Judge DiSalle, Blystone was hanging out with friends who were “engaged in a long array of inappropriate activities.”
The petition showed Blystone also had a number of juvenile offenses.
It wasn’t until this summer, when PennDOT purchased a large portion of the family’s land, that the Blystones had the financial resources to move, the petition said.
Mike Bosnic, Wash High’s football coach, also was right to want to help Blystone. When the school board’s decision was made to not allow Blystone to play, Bosnic became emotional when talking with reporters after the meeting. It was pretty obvious he cared more about Blystone than about getting a good lineman for the football team.
Lombardi also is right. As head of the PIAA, it’s his job to make sure the rules of that organization are followed and, more important, fought for when he believes they are under attack. He believes that is the case here. From Lombardi’s view, this fight is not just about a talented football player transferring to Washington. It’s about whether the PIAA’s by-laws will stand for all players.
Finally, the Washington School Board also is correct. The board has a responsibility to all the students and has to make decisions based on that. It was a nice gesture to show its support to Blystone at the Monday meeting, and I am sure it was sincere. Once the repercussions of what might happen to the football program became more clear, the board had no choice but to force Blystone to sit. Taking that chance and putting the accomplishments of the other football players in jeopardy would have been folly.
And that would be the wrong thing to do.
Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.