The PIAA overturned the WPIAL's ineligible ruling on high school senior Rob Gronkowski yesterday, allowing him to play football at Woodland Hills this season.
The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League had ruled him ineligible Monday, saying he transferred from a high school near Buffalo, N.Y., to Woodland Hills for athletic reasons.
However, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end will be forced to sit out the opener Sept. 1 against Mt. Lebanon because of a five-day suspension imposed in New York for an inappropriate e-mail he sent to a faculty member at his former high school, Williamsville North. He can participate in Woodland Hills' scrimmage tonight at Butler and will be permitted to practice next week.
"Absolutely, we are satisfied with the decision made by the PIAA," said Pittsburgh attorney Craig Lee, who represented the Gronkowski family at yesterday's hearing. "I think we were adequately able to convey to the panel that there was a need for [Rob Gronkowski and his father, Gordon] to move to this area."
WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley, however, wasn't pleased with the decision. There have been a number of WPIAL eligibility rulings overturned by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association in recent years.
"The WPIAL takes absolutely no pride or joy when we render a kid ineligible," he said. "What is troubling is that the PIAA bylaws have 11 or 12 clear illustrations that demonstrate what is a material athletic motive in a transfer. What we attempted to do was enforce those rules."
When reached last night, Rob Gronkowski refused comment and said his father was doing the same.
Rob Gronkowski transferred to Woodland Hills about two weeks ago. Soon thereafter, his father told the Post-Gazette one of the reasons for the move was Woodland Hills' highly successful football program, prompting the WPIAL hearing.
When reached by phone Aug. 11, Gordon Gronkowski told the Post-Gazette: "There's just not the quality of football in the state of New York that there is here. We want him to play with good talent around him instead of getting triple-teamed. Here, he blends right in."
Those comments prompted the WPIAL to investigate the transfer and led, in part, to the WPIAL's ineligibility ruling.
"What Mr. Gronkowski said ... demonstrated that there were factors in his son's transfer that there was an athletic motive," Mr. O'Malley said.
The newspaper quotes were a point of contention for Gordon Gronkowski, who referred to them in a report last weekend in the Buffalo News as "a setup."
"Mr. Gronkowski thought his statements were taken out of context when he spoke to [Post-Gazette sports writer] Mike White," Mr. Lee said. "Mr. Gronkowski said he talked about New York football and was just telling the truth that football here in Pennsylvania is better. Mr. Gronkowski thought when he was speaking to Mr. White, it was just in generalities, you know, two guys talking some football."
Brad Cashman, executive director of the PIAA, was satisfied by Gordon Gronkowski's explanation. "There were some comments made in the newspaper," Mr. Cashman said. "But the Gronkowskis were asked about those and said they were taken out of context."
Gordon Gronkowski owns five G & G Fitness Equipment stores in the Pittsburgh area and decided recently that he'd like to spend a minimum of one year near the company headquarters in Monroeville. That, and the fact that Rob Gronkowski already has scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Maryland, Clemson, North Carolina and Ohio State, is something that Mr. Lee believes weighed in the PIAA decision.
"This is a guy who wanted to be near where his business ventures were, and the Woodland Hills school district is in very close proximity to Mr. Gronkowski's office. So, it made for a logical place to live," Mr. Lee said.
"A family decision was made between Mr. Gronkowski and his wife that Rob living with his father was the best-case scenario. Rob is a tough kid and his mother refers to him jokingly as her 'problem child,' so the family felt it was best for everyone involved for Rob to be with his father, who is able to provide that discipline he needs."
Colin Dunlap can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1459.