The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

September 20, 2011

Mat champ loses decision

TURBOTVILLE — State wrestling champion Zain Retherford will not be allowed to compete with the Benton Area High School team, according to Monday’s decision by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 4 Committee.

The seven voting committee members deemed him ineligible to wrestle competitively for Benton coach Russ Hughes’ team for one year after hearing three hours of testimony at Warrior Run Middle School.

“I feel horrible it had to come to this, but I had to stand up for the district,” said Line Mountain Superintendent David Campbell, who testified along with several others that the Retherfords relocated from the Line Mountain district to Benton in August for athletic purposes.

Zain’s father, Allen Retherford, said Benton would appeal the decision.

“It’s disappointing,” he said, adding that the committee members declined to give a reason for their decision, referring to their soon-to-be released report.

He denied moving his family as a way of improving his son’s chances at another wrestling championship.

In 2010, Zain won the state championship in Class AA at 103 pounds. This year, he won a bronze medal at 112. Today, he’s ranked seventh in the country in his weight class.

Retherford and his wife, Sarah, told the committee they moved from Dornsife to Benton in early August for three reasons: Mrs. Retheford’s ailing health, to be closer to Allen Retherford’s workplace and to place Zain in a less threatening school atmosphere.

The Retherfords said their son had been bullied by several members of the football team for four years and the family decided enough was enough.

Although Zain did not testify, his parents said they were aware of the bullying and had informed his coaches, including head coach Mike Martz, over the years. Allen Retherford admitted he didn’t take the bullying complaints to school administrators until August when the family had already made the decision to relocate.

“If it was this bad and had this much of an effect on your son, why didn’t you report it?” committee member Glenn Fogel asked.

Allen Retherford said he was close to the coaches, adding he had no issues with the coaches or the wrestling program at Line Mountain but just wanted to put it all behind the family.

“My son didn’t want to be there where the kids were calling him ‘faggot,’ ” he said.

Campbell denied Zain had been bullied at school or that it was the reason for the family’s move.

“Don’t you think we would have dealt with it if someone said the wrestling champ was being bullied?” he said, later showing the committee a Facebook exchange between Zain and a Benton wrestler in which they refer to each other as “gay.”

Martz recalled conversations with Allen Retherford about problems Zain was having with other students, but said he never heard the word “bullied” and didn’t believe the problems rose to that level.

“Is there a rift between football players and wrestlers? Yes, but I don’t consider that bullying,” he said.

Campbell, Martz, high school Principal Jeff Roadcap and school board President Troy Laudenslager depicted Allen Retherford as a parent who was overly involved in the wrestling program, going as far as questioning the hiring of new coaches and suggesting replacements when Martz resigned for personal reasons last November. Martz has since resumed coaching.

They said Retherford threatened last fall to leave the school district if “the wrong guy” was hired to coach the wrestling team.

“He tried to influence who would get the job of coach, and when he didn’t accomplish it, he began to formulate a plan,” Campbell said.

Although the committee members didn’t explain their reasoning for denying Zain’s eligibility to wrestle at Benton, some of their questions showed their skepticism.

Committee member Patti Cross, a Warrior Run principal, questioned the Retherfords on their decision to relocate to Benton, a school district considered to be Line Mountain’s main competition in wrestling.

“I’m having a problem with this because you say you moved to be closer to (Allen Retherford’s) work, the hospital and because of bullying, but there are three to four other schools closer to work and the hospital,” she said.

After hearing Sarah Retherford outline the family’s three main reasons for moving, committee member and Daily Item circulation director Fred Scheller questioned why she would mention bullying last.

“With all due respect, bullying should be first on the list, not last,” he said.

The other voting members of the committee are chairman Jim Zack, Chris Venna, Steve Gobble and Diana Barnes.

— Email comments to mmoore@dailyitem.com

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