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Critics Questioning Charter School's Basketball Dominance

LINCOLN PARK (KDKA) - A local school for the performing arts has only been around for five years, but it already has one of the best boys basketball teams in the state.

Critics are crying foul and are accusing the school of recruiting star athletes and creating an uneven playing field.

KD Investigator Andy Sheehan reports that the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Beaver County is cementing its dominance in high school basketball.

They're tall, they're fast and they can shoot the eyes out of the basket.

They're the Lincoln Park basketball team and in just five short years, transfer student players like 6-foot-11-inch Devontae Watson have taken them to the WPIAL final three times and the state finals twice.

However, not everyone's cheering.

Cornell School District's Bill Sacco and other area athletic directors accused Lincoln Park of recruiting players for non-academic reasons. They are questioning how a charter school for the performing arts could become a basketball powerhouse in such a short time.

"Well you can only conjecture that some of them aren't down there just to dance. That's for sure," Sacco said.

In five years, 27 boys basketball players have transferred from their home school districts to Lincoln Park, including star player Antonio Kellem from the Freedom School District.

"We said, 'You're recruiting. You wouldn't have talked to this person if you didn't see how he played basketball for us and you wanted him on your basketball team first,'" Ron Sofo from the Freedom Area School District said.

Freedom appealed the transfer to the WPIAL, but lost.

"When adults go and start cherry-picking kids for sports, and we know this the number of kids who actually do that for a career is less than two percent, I think it sends the wrong message," Sofo said.

In response, Lincoln Park offered this statement:

"The Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School is in full compliance with all rules, regulations and bylaws of the PIAA and WPIAL. Statements to the contrary are false and misleading. Lincoln Park serves 600 students from 62 school districts across five different counties because of the quality of its academic and arts programs."

One of those students is Ryan Skovranko a 6-foot-5-inch sophomore forward from Duquesne, who is taking courses at Lincoln Park in how to become a sports trainer.

His mother said he was not recruited and his transfer from the West Mifflin School District had nothing to do with basketball.

"My son is absolutely doing better in that school. It's a smaller school. The kids there are absolutely focused on academics," Christine Skovranko said.

However, when star player B.J. Lipke transferred from Cornell to Lincoln Park, it made for hard feelings and a lopsided WPIAL final when the two teams faced each other this spring.

Next year, three more star players are expected to transfer into Lincoln Park, while other students pursuing performing arts careers are sitting on a waiting list to get in. It's leading critics to say that Lincoln Park should change its charter.

"You're really creating a magnet school for sports. Maybe that should be the next charter school movement to have a sports magnet," Sofo said.

In the past five years, eight school districts have mounted challenges to transfers into Lincoln Park, but only one was successful.

KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan will look into those cases Tuesday night.


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