Journal Register News Service

KING OF PRUSSIA -- Former Phoenixville Area High School basketball coach Bill Detweiler, along with assistant coaches Ken Winston and G.T. Pufko, are suspended from coaching any high school athletic teams for one year, effective immediately.

The decision was handed down by a Pennsylvania Interstate Athletic Association District 1 panel following a lengthy hearing at Upper Merion High School that stretched from Tuesday evening into the early morning hours Wednesday.

By a vote of 7-0 for each, Detweiler, Winston and Pufko have been disqualified from coaching any athletic teams of a PIAA member school for a period of one year from the date of Tuesday night's PIAA hearing. Detweiler and Winston were recently fired as basketball coaches at Phoenixville Area High School.

The PIAA panel also found Phoenixville Area High School in violation regarding the transfer of student-athlete George Harper to the high school and placed the school district on probation for one year.

The panel left in place the boys' basketball District 1-AAA championship title.

The PIAA will issue a letter of public censure to the high school, expressing strong disapproval of the lack of appropriate administrative oversight of the interscholastic program. The high school will be on probation for four sports seasons, with the requirement of written reports from the principal to the PIAA District 1 committee following each sports season.

These reports are to address preseason coaches meetings with an agenda that includes a review of all school district and PIAA policies; verification by all coaches of attendance at the meeting, receipt of the information and acknowledgement of their understanding; and attendance of all head coaches at the mandatory PIAA rules interpretation meetings for all sports.

If the school district fails to comply with those provisions, there will be additional penalties.

After hearing several hours of testimony, the hearing panel met in an executive session for 45 minutes before handing out their decisions.

According to W. Rodney Stone, chairman, the hearing was held following a letter dated July 22, 2009, by the Phoenixville Area School District, informing the PIAA of an "apparent violation of Article VI, Section 6, of the PIAA By-Laws" -- which is titled Transfers, Residence, and Recruiting.

The school district reported a situation that "may indicate recruiting

which is materially motivated in some way by an athletic purpose" by members of the high school basketball coaching staff, specifically Detweiler and Winston.

Prior to the hearing, both school district solicitor Ron Williams and father George Harper requested that the hearing be closed to the public, while Detweiler and Winston were in favor of keeping it open. Stone decided that the meeting would remain open.

Harper testified that he and his son, George Harper, were attending a Phoenixville Area Positive Alternatives summer basketball league game with AAU coach Thurman Cameron when they were introduced to Detweiler and Winston.

Harper said that Detweiler asked his son to participate in a pick-up game which included members of Phoenixville's basketball team.

"After seeing my son play, (Detweiler) said he could win a state title with this kid," Harper said. "Detweiler wanted us to move to Phoenixville, and I told him I couldn't afford it."

Harper testified that he picked out an apartment, with the rent being $900. He said that Winston took him to Orion Communities because "I'm disabled and can only afford $500."

"(Orion) said that they would take care of things," he said. "I presumed Orion would take care of the rest. The apartment wasn't ready and school was opening. George stayed with Winston for two weeks, and then with a host family until the apartment was ready."

Pufko testified later in the hearing that it was he who called Orion to assist Harper.

"Harper said he needed a place to live," said Pufko. "I went with Harper, his son and Cameron to look at properties. He picked one out and he was given paperwork for subsidized housing. At no time was there discussion about who would pay their rent. Orion explained to Harper that he had to come back in October for the funds. I got a call in December saying that his rent was late."

Both Detweiler and Winston testified that they didn't promise to pay any of Harper's rent.

Another issue that was at hand was the status of the District 1-AAA Basketball Championship that the boys' basketball team won during the 2008-09 season.

Stone said he was aware that the championship weighed on the minds of a lot of people in attendance Tuesday night.

"The championship was in jeopardy by rule," Stone said. "It wasn't seriously discussed during our deliberation. I understand the impact by the teams defeated by Phoenixville. You end up punishing youngsters who were not party to the violation. We can't replay the district tournament. The purpose of the ruling is to make sure that people pay attention to the rules."

In a statement released after the ruling to the high school basketball players and parents, Burke-Stevenson said, "While the school district will be on probation for one year, your accomplishments in no way will be affected. The oral ruling of the PIAA hearing panel did not take away any of your victories or your championship."

Burke-Stevenson said she is "grateful for the leniency that the PIAA showed," and the leniency demonstrated that the students, players and parents "should not have been penalized for the acts of some adults, your former coaches."

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