Members of the Leechburg school board received a rousing ovation from those crowded into the high school auditorium Tuesday night when they announced the boys basketball team will be permitted to compete in the WPIAL playoffs next week despite an investigation of a 10-year tradition of hazing.
The board members also authorized the hiring of an independent investigator to look into the accusations, which police have said involve some kind of stick.
Leechburg police Chief Michael W. Diebold said his department has reason to believe the acts of abuse took place.
“Countless hours of interviews have been conducted,” he said in a statement. “The information gathered during these interviews has added validity to the allegations and have revealed a pattern of behavior with different levels of severity that have occurred over approximately 10 years.
“The investigation has made apparent that these allegations come from a pattern of behavior that can only be described as a disturbing and shocking hazing tradition.”
School solicitor Bob Cinpinski said he has had conversations with the Pittsburgh-based law firm of Andrews & Price concerning the independent investigation. He declined to comment on a report that students had been suspended as a result of the investigation.
Police and school investigators began looking into the matter after a parent contacted a state child abuse hotline late last month.
Attorney Timothy Schweers, who is representing two alleged victims, said they are still in school and have spoken to investigators. “I can’t go into detail, but they’re not doing well,” Mr. Schweers said.
Eighteen boys participate in the varsity/junior varsity basketball program at the school of about 800 students in Armstrong County. Frank Prazenica, interim superintendent for the Leechburg Area School District, said the allegations involve only the varsity team.
An overflow crowd of more than 100 people at Tuesday night’s special school board meeting resulted in the discussion being moved from a board room to the auditorium.
Jonathan Burtick, captain of the team, said, “We are very hopeful that the investigation will get to the bottom of each and every allegation and ultimately to the truth of this situation.”
But, regardless of the board’s decision, he said, “You cannot break this team.”
“I’m not going to stand here and speculate and I won’t stand here and make excuses or accusations. As you know, we are kids and we are not perfect. We make mistakes the same as anyone else. ... When we heard that there is consideration of ending our season after we worked so hard to get there, we couldn’t believe that it could actually be true.”
Madasyn Czebiniak: firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Published February 9, 2016 9:23 PM