The eligibility case of a Washington High School athlete has reached the courts, but the undefeated football team at Washington is risking forfeits by using him in games.
Zach Blystone, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound senior lineman, transferred from Charleroi to Washington before this school year, and his case has many twists and turns. Charleroi contested the transfer, saying it was for athletic intent. The WPIAL and PIAA both ruled Blystone ineligible after hearings.
When the Blystones said they had new evidence and wanted to appeal, the WPIAL and PIAA again listened and again denied Blystone eligibility, saying he transferred for athletic reasons, which is against WPIAL and PIAA rules.
Despite losing twice at the WPIAL and PIAA level, the Blystones took their case to court, and Washington County Court of Common Pleas Judge John F. DiSalle issued a preliminary injunction Friday, allowing Blystone to play last week against Brownsville.
DiSalle will have another hearing with the Blystones, the PIAA and all parties involved to decide whether the injunction will become permanent. That hearing was scheduled for Thursday but was postponed to at least next week, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said.
Even if the ruling favors Blystone, the PIAA will appeal to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, and the case will be heard in the future. If the state court rules in favor of the PIAA, the PIAA would rule Washington must forfeit any games in which Blystone participated because he was ineligible.
"We believe the [ineligible] decision was fair and correct," Lombardi said. "The case went through our process, and we hope to defend it. ... If we fail to win the hearing on the preliminary injunction, we'll appeal to the state court as soon as we can. Hopefully, we'll get a favorable decision and, if we do, we will enforce the forfeiture decision that was passed by our membership a long time ago."
Washington will face undefeated Mount Pleasant in a game Friday that likely will determine the WPIAL Class AA Interstate Conference championship. Washington coach Mike Bosnic said Blystone will play against Mount Pleasant despite the possibility of a forfeit in the future. Forfeits could affect Washington's standing for the WPIAL playoffs.
The Washington School Board voted at a public meeting Monday to support Blystone and his quest to play. Many Washington players attended the meeting to support Blystone.
"I do believe from what I heard from the board, any type of action that is taken against Washington, the board plans to fight to the end," Bosnic said. "I think [the forfeits] would be very, very unfair. I think what [the WPIAL and PIAA] has done to Zach so far is completely unfair."
Blystone has practiced all season with Washington, and Bosnic said he will be a starter. He is a two-way tackle.
"I don't know how good he is yet, but I certainly feel there is potential for him to be really great," Bosnic said. "I think he could possibly become a Division I college recruit."
Slapping a team with forfeits for using an ineligible player isn't new for the PIAA or WPIAL.
"It has happened many times," Lombardi said.
You can go back 34 years when the WPIAL vacated a football championship won by Penn Hills because it used a player during the regular season who was found to be ineligible. The WPIAL voted the team had to forfeit games, which would have prevented the team from playing in the WPIAL playoffs.
Penn Hills took the case to court, won and went on to win a championship. A higher court later overturned the ruling after the season, and the WPIAL still lists the 1979 Class AAA championship as vacated.
"I do believe from what I heard from the board, any type of action that is taken against Washington, the board plans to fight to the end. I think [the forfeits] would be very, very unfair. I think what [the WPIAL and PIAA] has done to Zach so far is completely unfair."
For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: email@example.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM