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Coach in Pa. investigated for handling of concussions

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Thursday that Peters Township police were investigating after receiving a complaint from Washington County Children and Youth Services.

Police Chief Harry Fruecht said the agency referred a complaint that “an alleged perpetrator is permitting children to play sports with concussions or concussion-like symptoms.”

The chief asked Peters Township Schools Superintendent Nina Zetty for records on the district’s investigation of complaints from parents, as well as from the physical therapist who oversees the football team’s training staff, that first-year coach Rich Piccinini interfered with how trainers treated injuries, including concussions.

The dispute became public Jan. 17 when the school board voted to bring Piccinini back for a second season despite complaints from some parents and physical therapist Mark Mortland.

Mortland has had a contract with the district since 2003, has worked with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins for 16 years including helping treat superstar Sidney Crosby, sidelined nearly a year because of concussion symptoms.

Piccinini told the newspaper that he has done nothing wrong and that some parents defended the coach.

“The school district did an investigation and issued a statement, and they found zero complaints brought against me,” Piccinini said Wednesday. “As the school district statement said, the medical staff evaluates players and puts them back into the game, not me. I just coach football.”

Mortland and some parents contend Piccinini has undermined his staff by downplaying injuries and pressuring some students to play despite brain injuries.

“What I personally witnessed was the most deplorable, disrespectful and disgraceful behavior from a head coach in any sport I have ever seen,” Mortland wrote in a November letter to Zetty.

The district’s policy gives Mortland’s staff trainer the “sole authority to release an injured athlete back into play,” and no athletes have returned to practice or play after a concussion without such clearance, Zetty said.

Parent Andrew Taylor said that Piccinini called his 17-year-old son’s concussion “just a headache” and that a doctor said the teen could have suffered brain damage if he had suffered a second concussion soon afterward.

But Curtis Kochman said he had the opposite experience when his 16-year-old son suffered a concussion and a cut on his chin and argued that he wanted to return to play. Kochman said the trainers and coaches refused.

“The interaction we had with the coach was very fair and positive,” Kochman said.

Fruecht, the police chief, said he’ll consult with county prosecutors about whether criminal charges are warranted after his investigation is finished.

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