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Butler football OK’d to play in Friday’s playoff

Senior Grant Byers, center, cheers with the Butler High School student section at the start of the football game against Shaler at Art Bernardi Stadium on Aug. 26 in Butler Township. Butler Eagle file photo

The clock was ticking. With less than 24 hours to kickoff, a Commonwealth Court judge made a decision that allows Butler High School varsity football to play in Friday’s District 10 playoff game.

Following a brief hearing conducted remotely Thursday, Judge Patricia McCullough denied the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s appeal of last week’s Butler County Common Pleas Court decision to grant Butler a permanent injunction, which allows its participation in playoffs this season and potentially next.

The Thursday evening ruling gives a green light to Butler for its scheduled playoff game against McDowell High School at 7 p.m. Friday at Veterans Stadium in Erie, with the District 10 Class 6A championship on the line. It also allows Butler’s football team to partake in the 2023 playoffs as well, should it qualify.

“I couldn’t be happier for the players, their families and everyone who will participate in Friday’s game,“ attorney Tom Breth said. ”I’m thrilled that not only one, but two courts, agreed that the PIAA acted inappropriately.

“We certainly hope this is over now.”

Attorney Tom King commended Butler Area School District’s administration for “having the courage to fight for its kids and community.”

“I think this case is over. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over, but if the PIAA wants to keep fighting, we’ll keep fighting for Butler,“ King said.

The PIAA’s appeal follows the county court decision to grant Butler a permanent injunction, which negated the PIAA and District 7’s earlier ruling that Golden Tornado was ineligible to compete in postseason play through another district.

That appeal resulted in a pair of hearings Thursday, involving attorneys from both parties. The first was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg, the second for 2 p.m. in the Court of Common Pleas in Butler. The hearing in Butler was canceled Thursday.

Butler qualified by defeating Erie High School on Sept. 23. If Butler had been ruled ineligible for that game through this appeal, Erie High School would have replaced the Golden Tornado in Friday’s game.

“It’s exciting for the program, for the seniors, for the whole team, for the community, for the district, and the attorneys that did a lot of work and put a lot of time in, and Dr. White,” Golden Tornado coach Eric Christy said about Thursday’s decision. “It’s just good for Butler.”

He said he spent the week preparing the team to play.

“I try to only just worry about things that are within our control,” Christy said. “We were able to get to practice and do what we needed to, more so of just keeping focus.”

Butler’s football team opted out of the WPIAL following the 2019 season, a year in which it finished with 23 players on its roster. Butler then became an associate football member of District 10 and participated in that district’s playoffs last season. Districts 10 and 7 agreed to let Butler play in District 10 in 2020 and 2021, and the PIAA agreed to let Butler play in the playoffs, according to the school district.

Last winter, The WPIAL declared Butler ineligible to qualify for postseason play in District 10. After its appeal to the PIAA to change that ruling was denied, Butler opted to appeal the ruling through the court system.

Eagle Staff Writer Brendan Howe contributed to this report.

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