PIAA, charter schools reach draw in state court

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and representatives of Pennsylvania’s charter schools took their respective cases to state government on April 1, and the result, for the time being, was a draw.

PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi told the PIAA Athletic Oversight Committee (PAOC) in February that he was concerned that charter schools – public school entities that essentially act like private schools in many ways – have an athletic status unlike any other school in the state and some could be using that to their advantage in PIAA competition.

Lombardi’s suggestion caught the ear of the PAOC legislators, who scheduled an informational meeting attended by PIAA and charter school representatives.

After 90 minutes of testimony, the members of PAOC told the two sides to strike up and continue a dialogue while frowning on a legislative remedy. One legislator, Robert F. Matzie (D-Ambridge), suggested that PIAA add a charter school representative to the PIAA Board of Directors.

“We would be open to that dialogue,” Lombardi said.

So for now, the issue of PIAA and its charter school members will be handled internally, although PAOC chairman Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bensalem) encouraged both sides to keep his committee informed.

At current, there is no new policy forthcoming until the two sides have the opportunity to dialogue, but Dr. Lombardi pointed out that charter school students – and only charter school students – have what he called “dual enrollments” for athletics.

For example, if a charter school offers a sport, the charter school may play that sport with the charter school team. But if a charter does not offer a given sport, that student may return to his home school to participate, provided that school offers that given sport.

Lombardi pointed out that private school students and home-schooled students do not have the same opportunity.

In addition, charter schools, which are funded by the public school districts with local and state tax dollars, often have their athletic programs funded by those tax dollars, although Chris Shovlin, president of the board for Lincoln Park Charter School for the Performing Arts, said his school’s athletic program is privately funded.

Lombardi also pointed out during testimony that his office has heard from parents in smaller public districts that charter schools have the ability to reload via transfer, something that rarely happens in community-based public schools.

He specifically brought up Johnsonburg, a Class A school in District 9 that played for and lost the 2012-2013 PIAA Class A boys basketball championship, pointing out that team was a “team of a lifetime” that lost several seniors to graduation and by way of replacement added one freshman as well as last year’s underclassmen to this year’s varsity roster.

He then pointed out that another school (Math, Civics and Science Charter in Philadelphia, although he did not mention the school by name in testimony) replaced its graduating seniors with six transfers. Math lost to Lincoln Park 70-66 in this year’s Class A boys’ championship game.

Lincoln Park, by the way, draws its students from a whopping 75 school districts and seven Pennsylvania counties, according to Shovlin.

The charter schools pushed back against Lombardi’s suggestions. Shovlin asked if charter students engaged in other extracurricular activities should be forced to go back to their home schools, although he acknowledged that at least one of his students did go to Aliquippa to play football, which is not offered at Lincoln Park.

Matt Ehrlich, athletic director at MaST Community Charter School in Philadelphia, countered the all-star argument by pointing out that his school’s winning percentage in all sports last year was under 30 percent. He also said many MaST students would not participate in interscholastic athletics if the charter school did not offer sports.

In addition, Larry Jones, president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said he could not say with certainty whether a basketball player had been denied acceptance at a charter, but added, “I would hope the answer is yes. My rationale is that basketball is so far down the priority list that if this (basketball player) pushed somebody else out for academics, then that’s deplorable.”

Preparatory Charter (known also as Prep Charter) was admonished by District 12 in 2013 for admitting two girls’ basketball students who lived in Coatesville; those players helped Prep Charter win the 2012 District 12 Class AA basketball championship.

Students from outside the city of Philadelphia are not barred from attending a city charter school, but city residents are given priority over non-city residents. An investigation by the School District of Philadelphia showed that the girls did not live at the city addresses they provided the school and that the students regularly took the train from Philadelphia to Coatesville.

The hearing prompted outrage at Math, where CEO Veronica Joyner told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she planned to file a complaint with the state’s Human Relations Commission (the majority of charter school students in Philadelphia are black).

Math basketball coach Danny Jackson told the Inquirer that he believes the PIAA is “trying to take a shot at what we have accomplished in the PIAA. And I honestly don’t think that’s fair.”

In 2011, Math claimed that basketball officials working a PIAA boys’ basketball playoff game discriminated against Math players based on race and requested a hearing before the PIAA Board of Directors. The board rejected the claim based on testimony from Math officials and parents and the game officials.

Currently, there are 39 charter schools that offer basketball, the vast majority of which are in Philadelphia. But it should be pointed out that there are a handful of charter schools outside of Philadelphia that also offer sports that do not have home schools for their students to return to.

Hope For Hyndman Charter School, formed after the Bedford School District closed Hyndman High School, is one example. The charter school was created to keep students in the tiny town of Hyndman from commuting daily to Bedford, 23 miles to the north. The school sponsors six boys programs and four girls programs.


There was much celebration when Kennard-Dale’s Chance Marsteller won the PIAA Class AAA 170-pound wrestling title last month, making him the 11th PIAA four-time wrestling champion with a PIAA all-time best record of 167-0.

But there might have been more celebration had fans known at the time that Marsteller wrestled the second half of the season with a stress fracture in a lower back vertebrae.

Neumann-Goretti senior basketball player Ja’Quan Newton also received raves for his outstanding play in his team’s 64-57 overtime victory over Susquehanna Township for the PIAA Class AAA boys’ title. Newton scored 33 points, one of the highest totals in recent memory, in that win.

But the cheers would have been even louder had most fans known that Newton’s mother, Lisa Brown, 38, had passed away the day before after a three-year battle with breast cancer.