WPIAL rules one Birch brother eligible, other brother ineligible after hearing

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Chris Harlan, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
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May 4—The WPIAL handed Gateway transfers Brett and Brad Birch a good-news, bad-news scenario.

Older brother Brett, a junior, is eligible to play football for the Gators next fall, but younger brother Brad, a freshman, remains ineligible, WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said. The WPIAL held a combined hearing Monday for the brothers, yet the board reached a different decision on each.

Both votes were unanimous.

"The board felt they were different situations," Scheuneman said. "Everybody presented their information and the board voted differently on each kid."

The two transferred in March from Jeannette.

The hearing was closed to media at the schools' request, so Scheuneman declined to elaborate on any evidence presented. Administrators at the brothers' previous school had flagged their transfers as potentially motivated by athletics.

It's not common for two brothers transferring together to receive different eligibility outcomes from the WPIAL, but Scheuneman said the league considers each student individually.

"The reasons for transfer may be different," she said.

Brad Birch is a freshman quarterback who already has a scholarship offer from Oregon, and junior Brett Birch is a standout wide receiver and defensive back.

Monday's decision leaves Brad Birch ineligible in football only for one year from his transfer date.

Gateway can appeal to the PIAA.

Messages left for the Birchs' father Bob Birch and Gateway football coach/athletic director Don Holl were not immediately answered.

Brett Birch is now eligible to compete in the regular season next fall but not yet the postseason. Gateway would need to request and receive a postseason waiver from the WPIAL for him to take part in the playoffs.

All transfers after the start of 10th grade are ineligible for the postseason for one year under PIAA rules.

Both players earned all-state honors last season after leading the Jayhawks to the program's 10th WPIAL title and a PIAA runner-up finish in Class A.

The boys' father, Bob, has said the move was not related to football. He has a new job that requires travel, so he would prefer his sons live with their mother in the Gateway School District.

The parents are divorced.

"It's a family-related financial issue," Bob Birch told the Tribune-Review in March. "I just want what is best for the boys. My job requires some travel, and I can't be (home) all the time. Sometimes financial issues arise, and family takes precedence over people wanting to win football games."

Brad Birch passed for 1,676 yards and 30 touchdowns last season as the first freshman to start at quarterback for Jeannette. Brett Birch had 46 catches for 669 yards and 11 touchdowns. Both are active on the 7-on-7 circuit with the 412 Elite program.

At Gateway, they join a varsity program that has won two WPIAL Class 5A titles in the past four seasons and was the state runner-up in 2017.

The WPIAL board on April 14 had initially voted to deny athletic eligibility to both brothers. That decision was based on paperwork submitted by the schools.

Gateway appealed that WPIAL decision, leading to Monday's hearing.

The WPIAL also held three other eligibility hearings Monday at the league office in Green Tree.

—Sto-Rox junior Jay Pearson, who transferred from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, was granted postseason eligibility in football. Pearson was an all-conference running back last fall at OLSH.

—Sto-Rox sophomore Coby Hale, a 6-foot-7 offensive lineman, was ruled eligible for next season after transferring from Lincoln Park. He was on Western Beaver's football roster last fall through a co-op with Lincoln Park.

—Siblings Mallory and O'Malley Daly, freshmen who transferred from Brentwood to Seton LaSalle, were both ruled fully eligible. Mallory was a top scorer on Brentwood's girls basketball team. O'Malley was a running back for Brentwood's football team.

Staff writer Bill Beckner Jr. contributed.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .