Steve Cahill is upset.
He says that he moved his family from the Conemaugh Township School District to a home in the Berlin Brothersvalley School District for two reasons: To be closer to his job, which often requires him to be in Cumberland, Md., and to buy a bigger house for his sons.
Now, Cahill said the school that he, his wife and his oldest son graduated from is protesting the move, which could cost his younger sons a year of athletic eligibility.
“Up until yesterday, they were pretty excited to get a bigger house and getting their own rooms and setting them up real nice,” Cahill said on Tuesday. “They’re going to be pretty distraught.”
Taylor Cahill, who will be a junior, was a running back and linebacker for the Indians last season. He ran for 285 yards and two touchdowns and recorded 78 tackles. He also was a state qualifier in wrestling, where he went 35-9 and was a District 5 runner-up at 152 pounds.
Toby Cahill will be a freshman in high school this season. He finished second in the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling championships at 212 pounds in March.
Their father, who coached the Indians’ elementary wrestling program for years, was stunned to find out that his sons likely will face a hearing in front of the District 5 Committee to determine whether or not they will be eligible to participate in any sports for the Mountaineers in 2013-14.
“I wasn’t worried about it whatsoever,” Steve Cahill said. “I didn’t think it was an issue because it’s not like you’re going to a perennial power from a perennial power. One didn’t play (varsity football) and the other wasn’t even all-WestPAC. I don’t understand it.”
Conemaugh Township Principal Dave Koba declined to comment on the issue.
Berlin Brothersvalley Principal Bill Deal didn’t go into much detail about the transfer situation, but acknowledged it.
“We’re aware that that controversy is out there,” Deal said. “What we’re doing is following the process that’s been outlined by the PIAA. We’re going though that process. Township’s going through that process. We’re just following the guidelines.”
PIAA rules state: “If your Transfer from one school to another is materially motivated in some way by an athletic purpose, you will lose your athletic eligibility in each sport in which you participate within a period of one year immediately following the date on which you transferred.”
Virgil Palumbo, who is the District 5 chairman, would not comment about specific cases, or confirm if the Cahills will face a hearing at the next committee meeting in Bedford on Aug. 6, but he did say that transfer decisions are not something that he relishes.
“It’s an extremely difficult decision,” Palumbo said. “In my opinion, it’s the most difficult decision that these committees or the state board has to make. It’s very difficult. It’s not an easy decision.”
Generally, when a student moves from one school district to another, the receiving school’s principal contacts his or her counterpart at the former school. If both sign off on the move, there is no need for a hearing.
But, if one of the principals does not agree to it, the case goes before the district committee. Palumbo said that another school also could dispute the move.
In a hearing, each side would present its case.
“One school would have to show cause as to why they believe the transfer was athletically motivated,” Palumbo said. “The other would show cause why they don’t believe it was athletically motivated. The district committee, being the neutral party, would weigh the testimony and make the decision.”
There are 19 voting members on the District 5 committee, but only those present for the meeting can weigh in on the decision. Koba and Conemaugh Township Athletic Director James Foster are voting members, but would not be able to cast votes in a hearing for the Cahills, assuming that Conemaugh Township was the dissenting school.
If a student loses an eligibility hearing at the district level, the decision can be appealed to the PIAA.
Palumbo estimated that in his 15 years with the District 5 Committee that only between three and five transfers were ruled ineligible.
That’s little consolation for Steve Cahill.
“It’s a cynical world that they would actually do something like that,” he said of protesting his family’s move. “I can’t believe that grown men would question children or question me due to my work.”
Cahill works for Riggs Industries and said that he drives to the company’s Cumberland office – which takes about an hour and 10 minutes each way from his home near Jerome – about half of the time. He said that the home that he purchased in the Berlin school district last month gives him a much more manageable commute to it or the company’s Somerset office.
“It’s work related, and I’ll have documents to prove that,” he said.