HOMESTEAD, Pa. (KDKA) - A local high school football game is now the focus of an investigation into allegations of racism and targeting of a star player with the intent to seriously injure him.
KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan confirms the WPIAL has launched an investigation into the Steel Valley-South Side Area football game in which Steel Valley's star running back suffered a season-ending injury.
Nijhay Burt was seriously injured during the game in which players claim the n-word was freely used. Now, the WPIAL and both school districts are investigating.
Burt is southwestern Pennsylvania's leading rusher, gaining more than 2,000 yards and scoring 35 touchdowns. But his season ended Friday night, and his father Delorean Parms believes he was targeted for his ability and his race.
"He says while he was on the ground, someone was twisting his ankle and after they were twisting at his ankle, they stood up saying racial things in his face," said Parms.
His ankle broken and now on crutches, Burt is relegated to the sidelines, but the play and the entire game between Steel Valley and South Side Area are now under investigation by WPIAL amid allegations of dirty play and claims by Steel Valley players that South Side coaches and players called them the n-word.
Over the weekend, Steel Valley Superintendent Edward Weher said the district conducted its own investigation into "racial bigotry and unsportsmanlike play" aimed at his players and has presented the findings to the WPIAL board.
Weher issued KDKA this statement:
"I want to state emphatically that racism has no place in interscholastic athletics, nor should it be tolerated in any part of our society. We are extremely proud of our diversity and our heritage at Steel Valley, and Friday night did nothing to change that. #IronmenPride."
KDKA also spoke with South Side Area Superintendent Alan Fritz who said the district has hired Monaca firm CSI Corporate Security and Investigations, Inc. to conduct an independent third-party investigation of "all aspects of the game."
Meanwhile, WPIAL Executive Director Amy Scheuneman says the league has already launched its own probe as well.
"We take these reports very seriously and opened our own inquiry. We will await the reports from both school districts while we conduct our own investigation. The finding will be presented before a hearing to determine the appropriate action."
Sources say in addition to South Side's coaches and players, referees may have also used racial epithets and turned a blind eye to dirty play.
"I don't want to blame the kids so much. They're kids. They don't even know themselves to know the decisions they make, but the coaches that are teaching this, that are encouraging this, the adults -- I think they should be held completely accountable," said Parms.
The WPIAL director says she will be doing an exhaustive investigation to determine the facts and says appropriate action will be taken by the full board.
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