Coach's attorney rebuts claims
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An attorney hired by the Peters Township High School head football coach has dismissed allegations that players with concussions were allowed back into practices and games, calling them a "witch hunt."
The coach, Rich Piccinini, has retained Robert G. Del Greco Jr., who has represented several prominent Pittsburgh sports figures, including former Steelers Jerome Bettis, Jeff Reed and Deshea Townsend.
Mr. Del Greco issued a statement over the weekend denying the allegations and saying a recently begun police investigation will put the accusations to rest permanently.
Mr. Piccinini was rehired as head football coach by the school board on Jan. 17, an action that prompted some parents and physical therapist Mark Mortland, whose Peters firm provides athletic training services to the football program, to allege that Mr. Piccinini downplayed injuries and pressured athletes to continue playing. Of particular concern to Mr. Mortland were athletes who suffered or were diagnosed with concussions.
"While no one welcomes a police investigation, hopefully this second inquiry will yet again expose the allegations as scurrilous attacks on Mr. Piccinini and, importantly, put them to rest again and forever," Mr. Del Greco said in a written statement announcing that he had been hired to represent Mr. Piccinini.
The statement also said: "For 22 years, Rich Piccinini has coached football without even a whisper of impropriety. The excellent reputation that he has earned over two decades should speak volumes as to the absurdity of the 'Mortland report.' "
The vote to hire Mr. Piccinini for a second season was 6-3. At the time, school director Susan Smith explained her opposing vote by saying she had heard from concerned parents and was concerned about "the health and safety of kids."
After the board's rehiring of Mr. Piccinini, Mr. Mortland -- a licensed physical therapist who served for 16 years as the Penguins' physical therapist and head athletic trainer -- went public with complaints he had reported to district officials, starting with football training camp last summer.
Mr. Mortland, who has provided physical therapy and athletic training services to the Peters district since 2003, said that during training camp last summer, Mr. Piccinini, who was in his first season as head coach, undermined athletic trainers who were treating players with concussions, broken bones and other injuries.
In response, Peters Superintendent Nina Zetty released a statement last week saying the matter had been investigated: "All of the concerns have been fully investigated by the athletic trainer and high school principal and shared with the superintendent and the school board."
Also in response, Mr. Piccinini on Wednesday said Mr. Mortland's accusations were "completely unfounded" and denied that he interfered with the training staff.
But on Thursday, Peters police Chief Harry Fruecht said his department was starting its own investigation after receiving a complaint from Washington County Children and Youth Services that "an alleged perpetrator is permitting children to pay sports with concussions or concussion-like symptoms."
Chief Fruecht said he couldn't say if his investigation would result in any criminal charges but that his department had contacted Ms. Zetty and asked for documents related to the school district investigation. At the time, Mr. Piccinini declined comment.
In his statement, Mr. Del Greco referred to the investigation into Mr. Piccinini as a "witch hunt" from August that "has reared its ugly head in January, this time in a meritless CYS complaint." He suggested that playing time was at the root of the accusations.
"Playing time in high school football in Western Pennsylvania, a currency that has become more valuable than gold to the obsessed and disgruntled, has (undoubtedly) motivated yet another round of baseless allegations. Considerable resources have already been dedicated by a 'real' superintendent, athletic director and principal to investigate the accusations and the result was that there is no truth to Mr. Mortland's conclusion," the statement said.
Neither Mr. Del Greco nor Mr. Piccinini could be reached for further comment.
Mr. Piccinini was originally hired by Peters in February 2011 to replace Nick Milchovich and posted a 4-6 record last season. He previously worked as head football coach at North Catholic High School from 2003-2005 and on the football coaching staffs at Seneca Valley, Sto-Rox, Keystone Oaks and Upper St. Clair.
First Published January 30, 2012 12:00 am