WPIAL benches high school football transfer

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Rob Gronkowski, a star high school football player with a lofty national reputation, has been ruled ineligible to play this season by the local governing body for high school athletics.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound senior, who is a high-profile recruit and has numerous college scholarship offers, was benched by the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League yesterday because it claimed he transferred from a school near Buffalo, N.Y., to Woodland Hills High School a week-and-a-half ago for athletic reasons.

Under Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association rules, which the WPIAL follows, a student-athlete can be ruled ineligible if he transfers schools for athletic reasons. Rob Gronkowski, ranked the No. 2 tight end in the country by one scouting service, left Williamsville North (N.Y.) and enrolled at Woodland Hills Aug. 11. He can appeal the WPIAL's decision to the PIAA and have a hearing in front of that organization Thursday.

The Gronkowski case is being watched by school officials, coaches, parents and fans in two states as a prime example of talented athletes changing addresses for sports reasons.

The WPIAL Board of Control made its decision after a hearing with Rob Gronkowski, his father, Gordie, Woodland Hills coach/athletic director George Novak and co-school principal Margaret Boden. But the WPIAL's verdict is not all that unusual.

The past two school years, the WPIAL has conducted 24 eligibility hearings concerning transfer cases. Ten resulted in ineligibility. A few of those decisions have been overturned by the PIAA.

The Gronkowskis declined comment after the hearing and were unavailable for comment last night.

"The board felt there was substantial athletic purpose which influenced the transfer," WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said. "For that reason, we decided to deny his eligibility."

The WPIAL was not going to investigate Rob Gronkowski's transfer until league officials saw comments Gordie Gronkowski made in the Post-Gazette Aug. 13. Gordie Gronkowski said there were two main reasons he and his son moved to the Pittsburgh area a few weeks ago and rented an apartment in the Woodland Hills district. First, Gordie Gronkowski owns five G and G Fitness Equipment stores in the Pittsburgh area. Secondly, his son wanted to play a higher quality of football.

Gordie Gronkowski told the Buffalo News this weekend that his comments to the Post-Gazette were taken out of context.

"The whole thing was a setup," Gronkowski said.

The Gronkowskis elected to have yesterday's hearing closed to the media, and Mr. O'Malley said he wasn't permitted to reveal details.

But Mr. O'Malley did say the Gronkowskis gave new reasons for their transfer.

"There was a tremendous amount of information shared that certainly created some discussion, consideration and thought by the board," Mr. O'Malley said. "Clearly, there's more to it than ended up in the newspapers."

Rob Gronkowski also is an excellent basketball player, averaging 22 points a game last season for Williamsville North. He is still eligible to play basketball and any other sport, except football.

He was one of two football players ruled ineligible yesterday after hearings.

Andy Ciesielski transferred from Shaler to Hampton, but the WPIAL board said his transfer also was, in part, for athletic reasons.

Also yesterday, the WPIAL established a five-member committee to come up with a formal proposal that would change the PIAA transfer rule.

WPIAL president Rich Constantine will be the committee chairman and hopes to have a new rule presented to the PIAA in the next six months. The PIAA would have to pass the new rule on three different votes before it becomes a by-law.

In the past, Mr. O'Malley and other WPIAL officials have said the league would like to see an automatic period of ineligibility for any transfer student.

"I don't know if the answer to the transfer rule is out there or not," Mr. Constantine said. "But rather than sit back and take a back seat, let's be active. If something doesn't work, fix it."

Rob Gronkowski
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Mike White can be reached at mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975.


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