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First on the Tee

First On The Tee: PIAA Makes Bogey with Bull-Headed Ruling



Natalie Brosig strikes a shot for McDowell High School. (Credit: ERIK BARZESKI)

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state golf finals will take place this week, but two of Pennsylvania’s top young players will be left out — through no fault of their own.

As detailed extensively by last week, Erie McDowell standout golfers Zoey McClain and Natalie Brosig had near-certain berths in the state tournament taken away by what appears to be an administrative snafu.

Well, to be clear, it was an administrative snafu greatly exacerbated by bull-headed leadership on the part of the PIAA.

On the surface, McClain, a junior, and Brosig, a senior, were not permitted to complete the Class AAA District 10 tournament — held on the first weekend of October — because of a mixup regarding McDowell’s COVID-19 protocols.

On Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Country Club of Meadville, McClain and Brosig led McDowell to the championship in the team portion of the District 10 tourney, shooting 73 and 75, respectively. On top of that, the top two in the 36-hole individual championship would advance to states after that Saturday’s second round, and their nearest pursuer was 16 strokes behind.

Sixteen strokes. As in, essentially one stroke per hole played to that point. Even for a couple of golfers who had finished 1-2 in the District 10 tourney two years running, this was impressive.

But before they could tee it up for another round, the golfers experienced a most unfortunate series of events, tied to the pandemic. (Is there any other script in 2020?)

With the school district trying to manage a handful of COVID cases, the decision was made to close campus and conduct classes virtually for several days. The problem? According to policy ratified over the summer, that meant school-sponsored sports were also a no-go.

So, the morning after McClain and Brosig made a significant down payment on advancing to states, a representative from McDowell notified the PIAA that both of its golf teams — the boys were set to play in their team district tourney that day — were withdrawn from postseason play.

Tough call, but at the same time, it’s the kind of letdown that’s been par for the course across sports this year. But that’s the last moment of clarity in this whole situation.

By Friday afternoon, with McDowell’s athletic director, girls golf coach and the girls themselves all protesting that decision, school leadership decided to rescind the withdrawal and request that McClain and Brosig be permitted to compete that Saturday.

Regardless of how we got to this point, remember that we’re talking about school policy here, not PIAA rules. Tee times had not yet been released for Saturday’s Round 2, so there was still time and opportunity to correct what the school apparently determined was a mistaken ruling on its part.

Not so simple, according to PIAA leadership.

Starting with District 10 chair Pete Iacino and continuing up to executive director Robert Lombardi, the governing body for Pennsylvania high school athletics determined that it would stick with the school’s original ruling, under the justification that exceptions shouldn’t be made when it comes to protecting students’ health and schools should adhere to their policies.

That’s all well and good, except McClain has been attending classes virtually in 2020, and Brosig has been a ‘hybrid’ student who a source tells PGN checked out cleanly via contact tracing. In short, the girls’ finishing what they started at districts would’ve posed a negligible risk to anybody involved with the tournament.

Instead, we have the current state of affairs, in which McClain and Brosig will be sitting home when they should be gunning for a state championship. Not only are they missing out on a chance at hardware, they’re also being deprived of another chance to show their skills for college coaches toting scholarships.

As Lombardi reminded in a letter to Brosig’s family’s attorney — just noting, a letter in which Brosig’s name was misspelled throughout — the girls will get a chance to compete alongside their McDowell teammates in a regional tournament this Thursday. That’s better than the fate of defending District 3 champ Paige Richter, whose only shot to compete on the state level this year was scuttled due to Camp Hill High School’s COVID-19 response policy.

Either way, in a year that’s seen golf thrive in the face of the pandemic, it’s odd to see these athletes not afforded the same leeway that Joe and Jane Golfer have been given, due to the natural physical distancing that’s inherently part of the sport. This isn’t football or hockey or soccer or volleyball or even cross-country, where runners can jostle for position and frequently share breathing space.

Heck, I’ve personally played in multiple competitive events this golf year without needing to undergo any kind of coronavirus test or even a temperature check. So I suppose I put some of the blame here on schools like McDowell for implementing an inflexible COVID-19 policy when it comes to golf.

But most of my ire in these cases is saved for the PIAA. Team competition aside, this might’ve been The Year for McClain, Brosig and Richter, all of whom could’ve competed safely in individual postseason tournaments. All of them could’ve achieved the pinnacle moments of their young golf careers this week.

Especially in the case of the McDowell duo, all the PIAA would’ve had to do was defer to the judgement of the school, which obviously felt that its initial withdrawal of the girls was in error and attempted to change course to benefit the athletes.

(For what it’s worth, the PIAA didn’t respond to my media request regarding their actions in this case.)

The PIAA has had a couple of weeks to make the common-sense call, since Brosig and McClain actually played that Saturday at the Country Club of Meadville, posting their de facto second rounds under the observation of a reputable observer in Allegheny College coach Jeff Groff. They didn’t shoot quite as well as Day 1, but still plenty good enough to qualify for states by double-digit strokes, should those ‘marked’ rounds have ended up official.

The fact the girls even showed up at all is a credit to their pluck. Per a source, District 10 chair Iacino threatened that fateful Friday that there would be a police presence at the course should McClain and Brosig show up Saturday morning hopeful to play.

It’s that kind of heavy-handed response to honest-to-goodness frustration that nullifies any rhetorical high ground the PIAA might’ve had. A police presence, to deter a couple of teenaged golfers trying to achieve their dreams? You’ve got to be kidding.

For the record, I’m told there were no boys in blue at the Country Club that Saturday. That’s good, because the only entity in this situation that should be brought in for questioning is the PIAA.


• Start this roundup with a mea culpa. My intent was to give last week’s WPIAL golf finals the coverage they deserved, but a combination of personal factors made it impossible to a) do it thoroughly, and b) give each class and gender their just due.

New baby, new job, blah blah blah. I regret promising something I couldn’t deliver on, but I hope today’s description of an administrative wrong at the high school level can make up for some of my whiff.

As always, we’ll strive to do better next time around.

• Not that I’ve had no time over the past couple of weeks to produce some PGN content. Thanks mostly to the initiative of photographer Mike Darnay, we got out to Pheasant Ridge Golf Club in Gibsonia for another course review!

No disrespect to any of the other recurring features on the site, but it’s become clear to me that the reviews are driving this bus. Makes total sense if I put myself in the shoes of readers like you. Since I intended PGN to be primarily a service to local golfers, I love that you’ve enjoyed the reviews.

So, look forward to another one before the month is out. Can’t guarantee we can roll all the way through the winter, but we’re going to give it our best shot.

• In the realm of housekeeping, congratulations to western Pennsylvania legend Sean Knapp for rounding out the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association season with a nine-shot win in the 89th WPGA Senior Championship at Sewickley Heights Country Club.

Thanks to the WPGA for persevering to put on another memorable season of competition, despite the COVID-related challenges. Special shout-out to director of competitions Mac Wolfe for always being receptive and accommodating to our coverage!

• After the expected post-U.S. Open lull, the world of men’s pro golf is revving back up again. After a two-week stay in Vegas produced a couple of tight finishes, the PGA Tour returns to Sherwood Country Club in southern California for the displaced Zozo Championship.

You remember the Zozo, don’t you? Last year, in Japan, Tiger Woods won it in commanding fashion to tie Sam Snead for the all-time top spot in Tour victories.

This looks to be the GOAT’s only competitive action between the Open and the upcoming November Masters, so eyes will be on Tiger at the course where he used to host his annual charity event, the (Your Company Name Here) World Challenge.

• Remember, you can advertise your business on Pittsburgh Golf Now!

Join the likes of Sunset Golf and Butler’s Golf Course as Eagle Sponsors on our directory pages, or jump on a Birdie Sponsorship opportunity for half the price. Email me for details:

• Hope your fall golf season is going well! Looks like another great week to get out there, once we get past a soggy start.

Send PGN your photos and videos from the course — we’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — and look out for those leaf piles.

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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