High School Sports

PIAA not looking out for best interests of students

Leah Henderson, of State College, gets the ball over the net during their 3-2 loss to Garnet Valley Tuesday in the PIAA Class AAAA girls’ volleyball semifinal match at Cumberland Valley High School.
Leah Henderson, of State College, gets the ball over the net during their 3-2 loss to Garnet Valley Tuesday in the PIAA Class AAAA girls’ volleyball semifinal match at Cumberland Valley High School. PennLive

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association ought to be embarrassed and ashamed for what it did to the girls’ volleyball teams for State College and Garnet Valley.

What an incredible disservice it did to those girls, their families, coaches and fans who walked out of the gym at Cumberland Valley High School after an emotional, thrilling five-set match in the Class AAAA semifinals.

It was a spectacular display of volleyball, with huge emotional swings and a match in doubt all the way to the end, won by the Jaguars.

Unfortunately, those fans walked to their cars after 11 p.m. and had to drive nearly two hours to get home. The State College bus pulled into the high school parking lot after 1 a.m., and the kids who rode it still had to get from there to home. The experience was likely pretty similar for their opponents.

A few hours later, the alarm was sounding to head to class or work.

“I hate it,” said Garnet Valley coach Mark Clark, who was glowing after the win but immediately turned fiery when asked about the scheduling. “I think the PIAA is wrong for doing that to these kids. These kids are students first.”

It was tough for State College coach Chad Weight, too, who teaches phys ed at Park Forest Middle School.

“I look at it from the perspective of both a coach and a teacher,” he said. “I don’t care what extra-curricular activities kids are doing, if they’re not getting home till (2 a.m.) … to have the expectation to perform that late at night, and to be expected to go to school the next day and do well academically, I think that’s asking way too much from a teen-age kid.”

The problem was the PIAA decided to place three matches at the gym.

The day started with a Class A meeting between Berlin Brothersvalley and Marian Catholic, followed by Bishop Shanahan and North Star in Class AA. Those matches were scheduled to start at 5 and 6:30 p.m. respectively. The Lady Little Lions and Jaguars were set for the finale at 8 p.m.

Expecting the matches to take about an hour to complete — plus about 30 minutes for pre-game warm-ups and player introductions for the next contests — shows an incredible lack of knowledge of the game of volleyball. The state semifinals, with teams that are among the four best in the state in their respective classes, were expected to be over in a speedy sweep?

When contacted by email, PIAA Associate Executive Director Melissa Mertz said it was a matter of sites willing to host matches, though other questions were unanswered. A State College parent also complained to the organization and was given a similar response about finding host sites.

The PIAA is fortunate only the State College match went the distance of five sets. The other two were decided in four.

Taylor Kuruzovich finally delivered the first serve of their match at 9:04 p.m. — 64 minutes behind schedule. When the Jaguars scored the final point to lock up the win, the clock read 10:57 p.m.

That was followed by the elation of making it to the state finals for the first time in team history, or the end of the season, and for some their careers, one win short of their goal.

Yet somehow they had to wind down those emotions and get to sleep?

“It’s not going to be good tomorrow,” Kuruzovich said after the match. “Not going to be good at all.”

So, was she going to be awake for her classes?

“Sure,” she said, but shaking her head otherwise.

And we won’t even get into trying to get homework done while riding a bus.

Yes, the site choice was fair. Both high schools are about 95 miles away, and it could be argued favored State College since Cumberland Valley is a Mid Penn Conference rival.

It’s still no excuse.

The PIAA’s website has a rather lengthy page detailing its philosophy. Among the glowing words about its commitment to students and athletics:

“PIAA believes that the student-athlete is best served by a system which emphasizes the amateur, educational, and character-building aspects of high school sports and which recognizes that athletics is not the driving force. The students are in school primarily to obtain an education.”

It’s rather difficult to get a good education on a few hours’ sleep thanks to the PIAA.

“For us or Garnet Valley,” Weight said, “I don’t think it’s a fair situation for either one of us.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @gordoncdt