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Please Help - Natalie and Zoey vs. PIAA

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McDowell senior Natalie Brosig and junior Zoey McClain didn't want to withdraw from the D-10 event, so Saturday they played a hopeful unofficial round

 

https://www.goerie.com/story/sports/2020/10/03/mcdowell-girls-golfers-piaa-district-10-class-3-a-tourney-erie/3608534001/

https://www.piaa.org/contact/

Please consider helping by sending a letter to the PIAA using the contact form above. If you could, please save a copy of your letter and share it with me in a PM. (Please don't publicly post the letter, though you can comment here on this topic. I would prefer if everyone's letters are unique and written in each of your own voices, and if you read a bunch of others you may write more similarly.)

(Also, I will try to update this post if anything new comes about. Unless it's a typo or a small clarity thing, they'll be as postscripts and/or updates at the bottom. Check back here often, and please post comments here to keep this thread near the top of the unread list.)


Here's the gist of it.

Two years ago Zoey and Natalie, teammates at McDowell, finished 1 and 2 in the PIAA District X AAA girls golf championship. Zoey moved on but didn't get past regionals. Last year, Natalie and Zoey finished 1 and 2, Natalie moved on, moved past regionals, and finished sixth in the state championship. Their team qualified for states each of those two years as well.

This year they were a lock to finish 1 and 2 (and they ultimately did). Their team was a lock to win again, too.

The first round was Thursday. Zoey shot 73, Natalie shot 75, and the team won by 50 or 70 shots or something to move on. The team portion of the competition was over, but the individuals competition is a two-round deal, with the second round taking place on Saturday. The score from the first round counts, and Zoey and Natalie held 18- and 16-shot leads on third (a 91).

Late Thursday night, McDowell (their high school, and I'll probably say McDowell even when I mean Millcreek Township School District) decided to go all-virtual for five days because they'd gotten to six positive tests for COVID among staff and students (about 2400 people). The number at which they're supposed to do something is eight, and even today, Monday, I think they're still only at 7.

But anyway…

As part of the Return to Play plan that schools put together for themselves, McDowell said all sports would be temporarily suspended. One of the initial emails or posts said "on-campus" activities, extracurriculars, and sports, but others just said "all." Meadville Country Club, the host site of the tournament, is 45 minutes away and in a different county. The Return to Play plan, I will emphasize, is McDowell's own plan. This is important later.

At 10am on Friday (the girls aren't playing until Saturday, remember), someone (we think the principal, who isn't necessarily authorized to do this and who did this without the knowledge of the coach or any of the players - McDowell had five players returning, but none of the other three had beaten 91 let alone 75 or 73) sent an email to the PIAA withdrawing the players. We haven't seen that email - it may have been a generic "we're closing down sports for five days". We doubt it was a "please withdraw all golfers from the district championship."

Friday, my wife called the PIAA, and spoke with both Pete Iacino, District X Chairman, and Mark Byers, PIAA Chief Operating Officer. They both indicated several times to my wife that if McDowell would let the girls play, they could play in the Saturday round. So my wife focused her energies on talking to everyone at McDowell that she could, including Mark Becker, the athletics director, and Dr. Ian Roberts, the superintendent and a former Olympic athlete himself. She talked to the pandemic coordinator for Millcreek as well as the coach. I was driving and making calls and sending texts (speech to text and Siri, baby, all hands free) until about 9:30am, at which time I had to put my phone away and play golf. (I couldn't focus, it was horrible seeing all the texts on my watch, all with bad news.)

To condense this as much as I can, at about 3pm, Dr. Roberts and Mark Becker emailed the PIAA to say the girls were not withdrawing, and were eligible/allowed/encouraged to play the Saturday round.

The girls were told by McDowell that they could play and were happy. This was at about 4pm.

At ~7pm, Natalie was told to look at Twitter. She did and saw that the tee times were released for Saturday, and no McDowell girls were on it. Only the three remaining AAA girls with scores of 91, 97, and 114 were on it.

Carey reached out to Pete Iacino via voicemail and a text. Calls were placed to Mark Becker and the coach (Ryan Bickel), and texts began flying yet again. We'd even gotten word that the head pro and tournament director at Meadville Country Club, Mike Ferry, was on the course with one of the McDowell boys players with a flashlight getting a round in for him in case he was allowed to play the second round on Saturday (boys play Friday/Saturday), and he had indicated that he would do all he could to be flexible with tee times to get Natalie/Zoey out there.

Natalie tweeted out that she planned to go to Meadville with her clubs in case she was able to play. It's 45 minutes away, so even if she was given five minutes of notice to be on the tee, she wanted to be available. Late that night (like 10:30) word came from (reportedly) the PIAA's Pete Iacino that there would be a "police presence" at Meadville Country Club, and that if the girls showed up the team would be removed from the team state tournament and other sanctions may be levied against other sports at McDowell. So, Natalie still woke up at about 6:30 the next morning, but stayed home until about 9:00 when she decided to go down to watch her friends. She had her clubs, too, so my wife and I kept working as many angles as we could. There were no police and she was allowed to watch her friends (mostly boys) play.

Eventually, we were able to convince Jeff Groff, the head coach at Allegheny College (their home course is Meadville CC) to serve as a marker, and they played at 1:10pm after the last tournament participants had teed off. They played together and shot 79 and 80, for two-round totals of 153 and 154 (Zoey/Natalie). The girl who would have finished third but who is the District X champion shot 91-96 for a two-day total of 187 - 33 and 34 shots behind. The girl who shot 97 in the first round is the second qualifier to states with a two-day total of something close to or over 200. The girl who shot 114 didn't show up for Saturday's round.

They played 36 holes on the same days, with the same rules, to the same hole locations, from the same tees. We felt that was important, because it makes it easier for these two girls - girls who are top-ranked players in the state - to show that they would have qualified. The PIAA continues to refuse to let them play in the state tournament, as of the time of this post.

The Erie Times-News kept a reporter there for the completion of their round, even though they finished about 45 minutes or so after the boys finished, and produced the story linked to at the top.

I've been reaching out to as many people as I can, but haven't had the chance to sit down and type it all up (it took a LOT of work for me to trim it down as much as I could up above - I've typed all this and more 100 times each over the past few days, but never in one big shot like this). Some bullet points to conclude:

  • Zoey and Natalie didn't break a rule of golf and get DQed. I'm a "rules are rules" type of guy, and if they didn't hole out and teed off from the next tee, they'd be out, fairly. This isn't that, and this isn't fair. They did nothing wrong. They didn't withdraw, their coach didn't withdraw them, and they were cleared to play by McDowell's superintendent and Athletics Director.
  • Zoey doesn't even go to school at McDowell. She plays golf for them, but goes to online schooling through Stanford. She was not a COVID risk. Natalie was contact traced by the pandemic coordinator, and has avoided social gatherings and things that other kids are doing because she knows the risk to her golf season if she were to get infected (not to mention the risk to my wife as a teacher). She was contact traced and came back clean. They even volunteered to get tested. Additionally, both girls were at the golf course on Thursday, went nowhere on Friday (school was closed anyway, all virtual), and the next round was Saturday. They could have even just played together if "COVID safety" was an actual legitimate reason. (Also, the coach offered to stay away as well, in case anyone thought he might be a COVID risk, and Natalie and Zoey were prepared to drive to the tournament themselves.)
  • McDowell's Return to Play plan is McDowell's. It's not the PIAA's. I don't understand why the PIAA is trying to enforce McDowell's plan when the superintendent and AD effectively changed the plan and gave the girls the go-ahead at 3pm on Friday - over 16 hours before they would have teed off on Saturday. Additionally, the Return to Play plan doesn't cover the playoffs/post-season.
  • This isn't just about some tournament. Girls have earned tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships to colleges by playing well in the state championship. There's very real harm being done here to the futures of these two girls, both of whom have worked incredibly hard for over a decade (they're only 16 and 17). Ya'll have seen Natalie's work and accomplishments here. They did nothing wrong here.
  • Yes, we think the girls were "withdrawn" from the event — but again, neither they nor their coach were asked or even notified, and the withdrawal didn't come from the athletics director.

Here's what it boils down to for me, and seemingly, everyone else:

The PIAA could have, at any time between getting the email at ~3pm on Friday from the superintendent and AD and the end of the day Saturday said "they can re-enter." It's not like they missed a tee time and were asking to be let back into the event - they were withdrawn without their consent, and re-instatement was as simple as Pete Iacino saying "Mr. Ferry, please let the McDowell girls play."

That's all it would have had to be. Just someone saying "you know, these are unique times, they shouldn't have been withdrawn, but even if they were, there's still time to add them back, so let's do that."

Even now, this can still be corrected pretty simply:

The PIAA simply needs to say "You know, given these unique times, and the qualities of these two players, and the fact that they even completed 36 holes with what would have been winning scores, we're expanding the field by two and adding these girls to the state championship." That's it. No cost to anyone, no harm done to anyone, nothing. The field ultimately likely wouldn't even end up being "expanded" because we've heard that the two qualifiers from our area weren't planning to go to the state championship.

Yes, life sucks, but the PIAA has a chance to right a wrong here.

Please write a letter to the PIAA if you support Natalie and Zoey in this.

P.S. I'd ask that people not cite too many specifics, as much of what is up above is what I have heard or believe to be the case (such as who emailed who at what time, etc.), and I don't want the PIAA to disregard anyone's feelings about the situation as a whole because one specific thing might be a bit off.

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High school sports administrators are the worst. To go through all effort to get it cleared with the proper people at the school, and then to have the PIAA seemingly unilaterally take them off the tee sheet is insane. Not only that, they freaking threatened to have the police arrest them? I'm not sure I can put in words the disdain I have for that, and this whole situation. I will try, though...

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I was going to send a message through their Contact form. What do you think the proper "topic" would be?

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14 minutes ago, StuM said:

email sent.  Best of luck.

Thank you!

11 minutes ago, GolfLug said:

Letter sent via PIAA form. 

We appreciate it!

2 minutes ago, Carl3 said:

I was going to send a message through their Contact form. What do you think the proper "topic" would be?

Whatever strikes you as appropriate or fitting.

1 minute ago, NCGolfer said:

Done.  Hope this works out...really sucks for them.

Thank you Dave!

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That’s crazy. I’ll put something together a little later to send. 
 

I’m not sure how much pressure you would like to put on the situation but it may be worth while to send to a larger news organization like golfchannel or elsewhere. It could force the PIAA to correct the problem since it would reach a ton of people. Plus it could lead to some exposure to college golf coaches. 

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1 minute ago, iacas said:

 

Whatever strikes you as appropriate or fitting.

 

there is a pull down menu and I don't know enough about their particular bureaucracy

I just send an email in to PIAA under the topic of Championships.

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7 minutes ago, JxQx said:

That’s crazy. I’ll put something together a little later to send.

I’m not sure how much pressure you would like to put on the situation but it may be worth while to send to a larger news organization like golfchannel or elsewhere. It could force the PIAA to correct the problem since it would reach a ton of people. Plus it could lead to some exposure to college golf coaches. 

Thank you, Jeff. And yeah, we're considering all options right now…

6 minutes ago, Carl3 said:

there is a pull down menu and I don't know enough about their particular bureaucracy

Oh, how about "Championships"?

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42 minutes ago, iacas said:

Oh, how about "Championships"?

Yupp. That's what I selected from the drop down. 

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41 minutes ago, GolfLug said:

Yupp. That's what I selected from the drop down. 

 

1 hour ago, Carl3 said:

I just send an email in to PIAA under the topic of Championships.

Yes same here. Done.

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3 hours ago, DeadMan said:

High school sports administrators are the worst. To go through all effort to get it cleared with the proper people at the school, and then to have the PIAA seemingly unilaterally take them off the tee sheet is insane. Not only that, they freaking threatened to have the police arrest them? I'm not sure I can put in words the disdain I have for that, and this whole situation. I will try, though...

Indeed, it's all very disturbing.  I'm happy to help however I can as well.  

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