Football booster sues school that banned him

A Pennsylvania man who was accused of recruiting players for the football team at Berwick Area Senior High School and subsequently denied access to the school’s facilities has filed suit in federal court charging the school with violating his First Amendment rights of assembly, travel, speech, and association, The Citizens’ Voice reports.

Carlynton (Pa.) defeats Westinghouse, September 2013 (Brad Knabel / Flickr Creative Commons)

The rules of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association prohibit recruiting activity, and two players from Nanticoke Area High School—Jules and Damon Beckhorn—have been banned from playing football this season. That happened at a District 2 athletic committee hearing this summer, after the two brothers transferred to Berwick.

Nanticoke football coach Ron Bruza testified at the hearing that one of the brothers told him that Ed Warkevicz, an insurance agent and supporter of the Berwick football program, was the “coach” from Berwick referenced in a Facebook post prior to the April transfer.

At a special Berwick board meeting in June, Maryann Kovalewski, the vice president, questioned whether or not Mr Warkevicz had the proper clearances to be hanging around the school or in the football program. As a result of the alleged recruiting activity, the district’s superintendent asked an attorney to draft a letter to inform Mr Warkevicz he was banned from school property.

“These are kids from Nanticoke that came here,” the Times-Tribune quoted Ms Kovalewski as saying. “The family uprooted and came here, and now two kids are ineligible to play. I think all too often there is a culture of football, not just here, but in this entire area. People have to understand this is not the NFL or the NCAA. These are kids.

“When I thought about the kids, I’m not saying what they did coming here is right, wrong, or indifferent,” she continued. “One kid is losing his senior year. I think somebody may or may not be out there playing Jerry Maguire and maybe using kids as pawns. It reminded me in a different way of Kids for Cash, and I have no tolerance for that.”

Mr Warkevicz has no official affiliation or authority in regards to the football program, Berwick officials said, and the school’s football coach, George Curry, said he “never told anybody to recruit.”

In his lawsuit, Mr Warkevicz claims the school district deprived him of his Constitutional rights of assembly, travel, speech, and association by keeping him out of the school’s athletic facilities. He is seeking injunctive relief to end the ban and compensatory damages of more than $75,000.

In March 2012, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Hannemann v Southern Door County School District ruled that a school district didn’t violate a former student’s procedural due process by indefinitely banning him from school property.

A three-judge panel found that the former student, as a member of the public, did not have a protected liberty interest in accessing school grounds and, therefore, the school district had no duty to provide him with due process related to imposing the ban.

And I think Mr Warkevicz’s lawsuit will end similarly. Unfortunately, it will cost the school district money in legal fees to defend itself, unless the district has a lawyer on retainer who can handle this issue.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.