As far as Park coach Mike Battaglia is concerned, common sense prevailed and his boys basketball team heads into Saturday’s defending state champion versus state champion contest against visiting Canisius with a flawless 12-0 record and 17-game winning streak.
Rochester Aquinas begs to differ as does P.O2.NY (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Ontario, New York) International Basketball Showcase director Michael Anderson. Time to start pointing fingers.
Tournament brass is trying to make the Pioneers pay the price for making a decision that Battaglia said put their players’ safety ahead of playing the title game for an in-season tournament on a neutral court.
Park and Aquinas, two of the top teams in New York state, were supposed to meet at 8 p.m. Sunday in the championship game in Erie, Pa. However, with a snow storm warning in effect that day forecasting anywhere from 5 inches to more than a foot with potential white-out conditions, Battaglia said the school administrator in-charge of student’s safety, who accompanied the team, made the call late Sunday morning to head home and not risk being stuck either in Erie overnight or having to drive home in poor conditions. While other teams from the area, Middle College and Lancaster, also made the trip to the event, they did so via bus while the Park contingent opted for the parental carpool transportation method as private schools aren't guaranteed busing to events like public-school counterparts.
Battaglia said he tried to get into contact with Aquinas counterpart Michael Grosodonia to discuss the matter late Saturday and left his contract information with him but never discussed the matter with him. However Battaglia said he received assurances Park wouldn’t be dealt a forfeit for its decision, something that factored into his decision because the winning streak mattered to his players.
Anderson told the News a different story Wednesday. He wasn’t pleased with Park’s decision to leave. He also said the team would not be invited to future tournaments.
Initially the winner of the consolation game that day, Chester (Pa.) was ruled tournament champion. That changed Tuesday as Anderson awarded the Little Irish the forfeit win.
That caught Battaglia’s attention, who got in contact with MaxPreps officials regarding the situation. MaxPreps, a national website scholastic teams use to maintain statistics and game results, opted to remove the result from Park’s schedule but not Aquinas, in an email Battaglia forwarded to The News.
In regards to one team being awarded the win via forfeit over the other even though neither was present at tip-off, Anderson said he gave Aquinas permission to leave not Park– so he awarded the win to Aquinas based on that logic.
"As the tournament director only I can cancel the game. I would only do so if all parties agreed to it and officially we would have ruled it a postponement," Anderson said. Park "made the decision themselves not play and left without any consultation with me or Coach Grosodonia. Forfeit victory Rochester Aquinas."
Battaglia considers the matter closed and his team’s record spotless.
“Being cavalier with other people’s health is dangerous,” said Battaglia, a doctor who moonlights as a coach. “You’re responsible for the kids. That’s the way I look at it…. I know we did the right thing.”
An interesting sidebar: Park visits Aquinas (12-1) at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 8.
Grosodonia did not return a message.
Aquinas is no stranger to controversial sports decisions. Remember, the Little Irish's football team was forced to forfeit a quarterfinal win in the Section V tournament in 2014 for using an ineligible player. Aquinas folks went to court trying to get the ruling from section officials overturned but to no avail.
When Anderson made the ruling, Aquinas' official boys basketball team Twitter accounted tweeted the news, noting Park suffers first loss.
“The guy who runs the thing was angry at us and said he lost money because of us,” Battaglia said. “It was an act of God. … We made a decision to leave for safety period. I don’t know why that’s not good enough.”