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Police Open Investigation Into H.S. Coach's Concussion Management

A high school football coach in Pennsylvania is being investigated by police for allegedly allowing his players to return to play despite being concussed, according to a complaint filed Wednesday.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Rich Piccinini, head football coach of Peters Township High School, not only allowed his students to play with concussions, but allegedly interfered with the team's training staff, according to the complaint filed by the county's Children and Youth Services Department.

"I don't know if this will rise to our level or not," said Police Chief Harry Fruecht to the paper, in regards to criminal charges. "But we at least have to take a look at it."

In a separate article yesterday, the Post-Gazette reported that some parents and athletic trainers were concerned with Piccinini's handling of potentially concussed players.

Mark Mortland, a physical therapist/athletic trainer who has worked for the district since 2003, wrote in a Nov. 30 letter to the district superintendent about Piccinini, "What I personally witnessed was the most deplorable, disrespectful, and disgraceful behavior from a head coach in any sport I have ever seen."

Mortland accused Piccinini of interrupting trainers' evaluations and telling the training staff to "tape up" injuries instead (including one which later turned out to be a broken hand).

Mortland, who served as the Pittsburgh Penguins' physical therapist for 16 years, said that "kids had injuries and some serious, but they would not report them to us or the parents because of fear of the coach."

In his letter, Mortland also accused Piccinini of once saying, "Kids don't have concussions; they're just headaches."

Two Sides to Every Story

When reached by the paper, Piccinini called the allegations "completely unfounded."

"The school district did an investigation and issued a statement, and they found zero complaints brought against me," he said.

"The medical staff evaluates players and puts them back into the game— not me, I just coach football," he said.

Two parents who spoke with the Post-Gazette gave a different impression of Piccinini than the one alleged by Mortland.

One, whose child experienced a concussion during a football game, said the trainers and coach took away his boy's helmet and wouldn't let him back into the game. The other suggested that these complaints stemmed from deeper issues, such as playing time.

Mortland said he was motivated to speak out to the Post-Gazette after the Peters Township school board voted to retain Piccinini for a second year, by a 6-3 vote. Before the vote, some attendees had raised concerns about the coach's handling of players' concussions.

Suffice it to say, I'll be keeping a close eye on the progress of this investigation. But, regardless of how this investigation ends up, coaches in Pennsylvania won't be able to be lax about how they handle players' concussions starting in July.

Back in November, Gov. Tom Corbett signed a youth-concussion law, which calls for coaches to immediately remove players from play if they're suspected of having a concussion. Any student-athlete who suffers a concussion must obtain medical clearance before returning to play under the law, too.

Any coach found in violation of either of those policies will be suspended from coaching for the rest of the season, even on a first offense. Three offenses will result in a lifetime coaching ban.

However, the provisions of this law won't retroactively apply to Piccinini.

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