It was standing room only at Tuesday’s meeting, as Peters Township High School football players and parents filed into administration chambers to address concerns regarding a contract renewal of head football Coach Rich Piccinini.
Few parents spoke at the podium prior to the school board’s 6-3 vote to renew Piccinini’s contract—Sandy Gregg, Bill Merrell and Sue Smith held the opposing votes.
A lengthy email exchange, forwarded to Peters Patch—between Mark Mortland of Mortland Physical Therapy and district Superintendent Nina Zetty—circulated to football parents discussing claims of injured players being forced to play and alleged verbal abuse by Piccinini.
Mortland, who provides athletic training to the district, wrote, “What I personally witnessed was the most deplorable, disrespectful and disgraceful behavior from a head coach in any sport I have ever seen. I have been providing athletic training services to high schools, college and professional sporting teams for 25 years and have never seen anything like this year’s head football coach.”
Zetty replied saying she immediately took the issue to Athletic Director Brian Geyer and high school Principal Lori Pavlik following Mortland’s first email sent Nov. 30.
Zetty also said Mortland’s accusations are, “in some cases, second-hand” and she questioned why he waited until the season was over to report the claims.
Peters resident and attorney Lisa Anderson voiced her opinion prior to the board’s vote Tuesday.
“I have raised questions about the safety of the program,” she said. “I want to ensure that you properly look at all of the claims written in these emails. I’d hope you’d contact each of the coaches individually to be sure there aren’t unreported claims.
“If the allegations are true, what kind of environment is being created? Players are afraid to talk about their injuries.”
School board member Bill Merrell reminded everyone about a Peters football player who died nearly 60 years ago from a serious head injury.
“These are serious situations we have to consider,” he said.
Football mom Michele Bittel asked the board “to do the right thing.”
“I’m begging all of you, don’t make a decision on some information and not all. I urge you to postpone any vote if you don’t feel you have enough information to make an informed decision. We hired you to stand up for us.”
The board met privately for an executive session during the meeting, then cast the vote while completing meeting agenda items during the final minutes.
Board member Sue Smith participated in the meeting via phone, as she was out of the state.
In a similar matter, and an effort to improve communication and the understanding of bylaws, the board appointed board member Lynn Erenberg to a new Sports Programs and Activities Committee during the meeting.
Board president Cindy Golembiewski said the committee will assure consistency within the bylaws in the district’s sports programs and organizational groups.
Editor's Note: Piccinini deferred comment on the matter.