Opportunity to play: Fans travel to support Butler football
ERIE — Butler fans traveled north Friday night to support their football team, which only a day earlier was waiting for a decision that would determine whether or not they could compete in the District 10 Class 6A title game.
On Thursday, Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough denied the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s appeal of last week’s Butler County Common Pleas Court decision to allow Butler’s participation in playoffs this season and potentially next.
If McCullough had ruled the other way, the campaign would have stopped short for a squad that earned the chance to play.
And while Butler’s Golden Tornado wasn’t able to overcome McDowell High School on Friday at Veterans Stadium in Erie, many Butler fans were proud of what the team came through to get there.
“365 days of the year, they’re practicing football,” said Center Township's Lance Rihn, who attended the court proceedings along with his wife, Kimberly. “They should have the opportunity to play at the end of the day. They’ve literally won the position to play in the playoffs.”
Rihn stressed that the work the team has put in throughout the entire calendar should mean something.
“I think it would’ve been very devastating to the kids, the coaches, the community,” said Rihn. “It’s good for the program, too. Getting back to the playoffs, playing in the playoffs, it’s only going to help build the program.”
Jason Rees, the father of Butler junior Matthew Rees echoed these sentiments.
“That would’ve been heartbreaking for them,” he said before the game began. “Because they’ve been going at it for almost a year straight now to get in shape and camp and everything.”
Another parent, Kevin McTighe, of Summit Township, understood the PIAA’s reasoning.
“I understand their point,” said McTighe, the father of junior Cooper McTighe. “We’re outsiders coming in, so one of those (teams) don’t get to play. So, I can understand. But, at the same time, (with) them letting us in, that should’ve been with the rights to play in the playoffs.”
As Butler Area Midget Football League youth coaches, both he and Rees helped teach most of the Golden Tornado’s roster about the sport. The two played for Butler on the same teams. Both graduated from the school in 1991 and feel the situation the team is in now is much more favorable.
“Lance and I have been coaching these kids for a long time and to watch them excel and get where they’re at, Butler football has been declining for a while,” Rees said. “We’ve been working with the high school and the youth to work to get a tandem.
“But the 6A division we were in; we just couldn’t compete in.”
The blowout losses in the WPIAL were a frustrating experience for the players, coaches and team parents alike.
“We go to District 10 here, and they’re competitive games,” Rees said. “We’re not dominating anyone.”
At the purest level of athletics, Rihn and Rees felt that the PIAA didn’t care much about making the right decisions for the players.
“It was about them, not the kids,” Rees said. “They (Butler) have earned this. Most of these kids have been playing for 10 years. They’ve worked for it.”
Much like the rest of the community, he’s happy the Golden Tornado got to enjoy the experience.
“For two years in a row to come up here and play in the championship playoff game is awesome,” Rees said. “It means a lot to these kids and for us adults to sit here and watch these young kids excel to where they’re at.”