Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh has lost its appeal to lift a one-game suspension on head football coach Jon LeDonne, based on his team's use of sideline smoke devices last season.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League board of directors ruled Monday that LeDonne's suspension for the first game of the 2019 season would stand following an incident in which two Penn Hills players set off smoke devices as the team took the field for the Nov. 23 WPIAL 5A championship game at Norwin High School, briefly enshrouding the Indians' sideline in a white haze. Penn Hills did the same thing before a semifinal game at Norwin the week before, prompting the WPIAL to send a letter to Penn Hills instructing them not to repeat the pregame theatrics.
After Penn Hills ignored that directive, the WPIAL ruled in December that Penn Hills would be barred from the playoffs in 2019 unless the school suspended LeDonne for the first game. At Monday's hearing — attended by Penn Hills principal Eric Kostic, athletic director Stephanie Strauss, LeDonne and a few of his assistants — Penn Hills superintendent Nancy Hines asked the league to reduce the sanctions because LeDonne had no idea that the players would set off the smoke device. Hines also argued that the punishment, which involved all coaches taking a sportsmanship class, didn't fit the crime.
She said the WPIAL should reduce the sanctions because the school district is going to have some players and students take a class in firework safety and smoke inhalation. Some students would also do community service for fire victims or others with reading disorders.
During questioning, LeDonne admitted that he ultimately holds responsibility for the actions of his players, but he countered that he had instructed his players not to use smoke devices after the initial incident and that he punished the entire team by having them push 100-pound metal plates the length of the field for 30 minutes during practice.
When LeDonne was asked why he didn’t punish the players the night of the championship, he said, "I had the WPIAL championship on my mind."
Penn Hills won the WPIAL championship, as well as the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championship the following week.
Nevertheless, the WPIAL board voted unanimously to uphold the sanctions.