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Peters police investigate high school football program
Did coach play kids with concussions?
Friday, January 27, 2012

Peters police are investigating the high school football program and its head coach regarding complaints about players participating in sports with suspected concussions.

Peters police Chief Harry Fruecht said Thursday that his department began seeking information after receiving a complaint from Washington County Children and Youth Services this week that "an alleged perpetrator is permitting children to play sports with concussions or concussion-like symptoms."

"I don't know if this will rise to our level or not," the chief said of possible criminal charges. "But we at least have to take a look at it."

Chief Fruecht said he contacted district superintendent Nina Zetty and asked for documents related to a school district investigation regarding accusations that head football coach Rich Piccinini interfered with athletic trainers treating injured players, including those with concussions.

Mr. Piccinini said Thursday that he had no comment.

But he said in an interview Wednesday that the accusations were "completely unfounded" and denied that he interfered with the training staff.

"The school district did an investigation and issued a statement, and they found zero complaints brought against me," he said in the interview.

In a story Thursday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's South Xtra, Mark Mortland, who has provided physical therapy and athletic training services for the district since 2003, questioned Mr. Piccinini's judgment, saying the coach undermined athletic trainers who were treating players with concussions, broken bones and other injuries.

He and some parents said the coach downplayed injuries and pressured athletes to continue playing.

Mr. Mortland, who also served for 16 years as the Pittsburgh Penguins' physical therapist and head athletic trainer, said it was "the most deplorable, disrespectful and disgraceful behavior from a head coach in any sport I have ever seen."

Mr. Mortland said Thursday that he wasn't the person who notified CYS, but was glad that someone had.

"Now we will have a real investigation with real police and real detectives," he said. "The biggest thing is the safety of the kids, but the underlying issue is that anyone who overlooks the safety of kids needs to be gone."

Ms. Zetty said she investigated concerns forwarded by Mr. Mortland and some parents.

"All of the concerns have been fully investigated by the athletic director and high school principal, and shared with the superintendent and school board," she said. When the police investigation is complete, Chief Fruecht said, the department will meet with the district attorney's office to determine whether charges are merited.

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.

First published on January 27, 2012 at 12:00 am
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