Wednesday, December 1, 2021 | 5:57 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Appeals Board on Wednesday heard Bishop McCort’s case on penalties imposed by District 6 on its athletic programs. The group decided after about half an hour of deliberation to maintain these sanctions with amendments.
The PIAA has announced a playoff ban for Bishop McCort’s wrestlers for the 2022 and 2023 playoffs and a two-year suspension for coach Bill Bassett from training at any PIAA member institution. Bishop McCort’s athletic program was also put on probation for three years.
PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi was not on the appeal board but said the committee heard testimony for two hours and had a plethora of documents to consider before the final decision was made.
“I think the appeal board met for two hours, took the testimony and weighed all the information received,” Lombardi said. “So I think that was the decision and we’ll take it from there.”
These penalties are considered perhaps the most severe in the history of track and field in Pennsylvania, and the final resolution comes after hearings on October 6 and November 3 at the District 6 level. The issues at stake were a big one. volume of transfers to Bishop McCort and whether those transfers were sport-motivated.
Bishop McCort’s representatives rigorously defended the academic motives of all 88 new transfers to the school, which were estimated at 16-18 wrestlers, and argued that new students have arrived due to educational opportunities and McCort’s handling of the covid-19 pandemic.
Bishop McCort’s attorney, Gary Vitko, presented the school’s opening-up argument, centered on academics and a “double standard” imposed by District 6 in its decision. He called the district’s allegations that Bassett and Bishop McCort recruited athletes from “fishing to fishing” and reiterated the academic motives for the transfers.
âNone of these studentsâ¦ said, ‘We come here to fight,’â said Vitko in his opening statement. âThey said, ‘We come here for educational purposes. We come here because of the pandemic or because they were a Christian family. “
“There is no factual basis on the record that Bill Bassett led or recruited anyone here.”
The issue was Bassett’s conduct in the transfer process as well as photographic and video evidence showing an athlete training at The Compound, a facility operated by Bassett in the basement of his home, prior to his transfer to Bishop McCort. The appeal process also showed that Bassett had contact with other wrestlers before they arrived at the school.
Among the wrestlers to transfer most recently were two nationally ranked eighth graders Jax Forrest of North Carolina and Sam Herring of Tennessee. Bassett’s son Bo is also an eighth-grader widely regarded as one of the nation’s top wrestlers after winning a world cadet title over the summer.
Last season, nationally ranked state title contender Erik Gibson was declared ineligible after being transferred from Forest Hills to Bishop McCort over allegations of a racially motivated incident in the wrestling program. Today’s decision means Gibson is set to miss its second straight series.
Bishop McCort’s principal Tom Smith said he personally evaluates each new transfer and confirms that he is motivated by the studies. He attributed the general interest to the school’s approach to education and marketing for a pandemic that eventually spread to other states.
âPeople loved it and the word traveled,â Smith said. âThey wanted to come here because of what we were offering. I’m not going to say it was better. It was different. “
Smith made the same case just before McCort’s closing statement.
“As the principal of Bishop McCort, how could I sit there and listen to these parents and say it wasn’t academic?” ” he said. “I did the interview, not the District 6 panel. I just hope you take a second to think about this, why it wasn’t athletically motivated.”
The five-member appeals board gave it some thought, and it returned shortly after closing arguments were presented with a unanimous decision: sweeping penalties will be enforced, which will change the landscape of the struggle in Pennsylvania for the next two seasons.