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editor's pick
Gov. Wolf proposes $200 million cut from horse racing trust fund

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget, which includes taking more than $200 million from the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund (PRHDF), is meeting with tremendous opposition in Washington County.

One can bet the contention won’t end soon.

Opponents say if Wolf, a Democrat, is successful, the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania would be dealt a fatal blow and Washington County’s economy would take a devastating hit.

“That fund is not for us to take from,” said state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township. “This is trickery and the governor is being disingenuous. Every year we hear a threat. That is why protections were written into this.

“When he says we should strip $200 million from the horse fund to pay for it, this sounds great to some. These are not tax dollars. This is a fund that comes straight from the casinos. Fifteen community fairs throughout all of Pennsylvania rely on horse racing to bring in funds to keep their fairs going. It’s an agricultural issue as well. When you strip from one industry, you are going to absolutely kill off that industry.”

The PRHDF was established in 2004 to give more funding to horsemen’s organizations and purses in order to offset the possible drop in racing wagers because of the arrival of slots in the state. All casinos must pay the assessment with proceeds divided as follows:

  • 80% for increasing purses
  • 16% for breeding funds
  • 4% to fund health and pension benefits for members of the horsemen’s organizations

Horsemen and others say the fund is restricted. Horsemen also point to the 20,000 jobs, direct and ancillary, created by racing in the state.

“It would be impossible to overcome,” said Kim Hankins, executive director of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association (MSOA). “We would be back to the stone age. We have 700 horses on the grounds that would be gone. We are pushing back.

“The fund was formed to help us to survive. If (Wolf) takes that money, it will be the end of breeding and racing in Pennsylvania.”

Commissioners Diana Irey Vaughan, chairwoman, and Larry Maggi, along with other Washington County officials warn that if Wolf’s proposal comes to fruition, the county will be wounded.

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” Irey Vaughan said. “There will be many jobs lost. The economy will take a hit.”

Maggi said the county would lose a lot of industry, farming and other things if racing at The Meadows ceased.

Said Jeff Kotula, president of Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agency: “Harness racing is a large tourism attraction and a substantial economic driver for our area, especially when you consider the impact of The Adios. However, we must also keep in mind that agriculture remains one of the county’s largest industries with equine breeding and care being an important segment of that industry. The governor’s proposal to redirect $204 million from the Race Horse Development Trust Fund will negatively impact not only our agricultural community but also the countless jobs that are supported by that industry.”

The scholarship program Wolf is championing is aimed at curbing rising student debt. It’s geared toward lower- and middle-class students who graduate from one of the state’s 14 state-owned universities.

California University could benefit from the plan while Washington & Jefferson College, a private institution, could be stung by it. Both are in interesting positions being located in Washington County.

Christine Kindl, California’s vice president of communications and marketing, in an email referred questions to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).

“The strength of Pennsylvania’s economy and the vibrancy of its communities depend so much on students who graduate with career-oriented, affordable degrees,” said chancellor Daniel Greenstein of the PASSHE. “This program represents Gov. Tom Wolf’s commitment to our students and to maintaining public higher education as the engine of social mobility and economic development that it’s meant to be.”

The Wolf administration estimates that at least 25,000 students of the state-system university would benefit. The funds would come with the idea that students would have to remain residents of Pennsylvania for a certain number of years after graduating.

The scholarship program is inspired by Nellie Bly, who Wolf called a “Pennsylvanian of modest means.” Bly dropped out of what is now known as the Indiana University of Pennsylvania after her father passed away and she couldn’t afford tuition. She never got a degree and moved out of state to start her career.

In 2016, because of decreased pari-mutuel wagering, the State Racing Commission, which regulates horse racing and does drug testing, was in dire straits. Wolf negotiated funding, and he signed House bill 941 that provided significant reforms to the racing industry.

The PRHDF provides purses for races at the following state tracks and off-track betting parlors: Parx Casino, Presque Isle Downs & Casino, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, The Meadows and Harrah’s Philadelphia Racetrack and Casino

About 10% of slot revenue goes to the PRHDF.

Wolf faces a Republican-controlled legislature. The deadline for Pennsylvania to pass its budget is July 1.

editor's pick
Late surge lifts Indiana over California

CALIFORNIA – The California University men’s basketball team is one with a bright future. The Vulcans, who do not have a senior in their player rotation, have done many good things this season, including clinching a berth in the PSAC tournament.

However, the one thing the Vulcans haven’t done in this turnaround season is beat either of the top two teams in the West Division, Indiana and Pitt-Johnstown.

Play them tough, yes, Cal has done that. But finding a way to beat IUP or UPJ is not as easy as A-B-C.

The final surge, and the victory, Wednesday night belonged to Indiana as the 9th-ranked Crimson Hawks pulled away over the final eight minutes to beat the Vulcans 79-70 at the Convocation Center.

The win improves IUP to 15-2 in the PSAC and 20-2 overall.

And California (11-6, 15-8) will have to be satisfied with playing the Crimson Hawks tough to the end. Cal led by as many as five points in the second half before the more experienced Crimson Hawks pulled away, scoring nine of the final 12 points.

“Our execution wasn’t there the last five minutes,” Cal coach Danny Sancomb said. “We tried to do too much. We forgot what got us there.”

Cal led 61-56 with 10 minutes remaining after a driving three-point play by do-it-all point guard Brent Pegram and two free throws by Luke House. IUP, however, responded with a 9-0 run to take a 65-61 lead and never trailed again.

The Vulcans closed to within 70-67 with less than four minutes remaining when IUP freshman Ethan Porterfield delivered the game’s biggest basket. As the enthusiastic crowd chanted “Dee-fense! Dee-fense!” Porterfield, a 6-8 forward, calmly buried a three-pointer from the right wing that served as a momentum-killer for Cal.

It was the kind of shot a freshmen usually won’t attempt.

“That was the separator,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi admitted. “Ethan’s not a normal freshman. On our level, he’s as good a freshman as there is in the country. He can pass … his basketball IQ is really high.”

Both teams had five players score in double figures, but IUP senior forward Chucky Humphrey grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end of the court. IUP outrebounded Cal by 10.

“Chucky’s 16 rebounds, that was the difference-maker,” Lombardi said.

Armoni Foster led IUP with a game-high 24 points. Porterfield finished with 14, Shawndale Jones and Dave Morris each had 13 and Humphries 10.

Pegram and Jermaine Hall paced Cal with 18 points apiece, but IUP made Pegram work hard for his points. Pegram was only 2-for-11 from three-point range.

“Against Cal, you have to guard one-on-one. They space the floor very well,” Lombardi said. “So you have to play one-on-one, get stops and make them miss shots. Down the stretch, we were able to do that.”

Zyan Collins scored 13 points before leaving the game in the second half with an injury. He did not return.

House scored 11 points and Tim Smith had 10.

“We’re not where we want to be, but we’re not far away,” Sancomb said. “Experience has a lot to do with it. Playing in games like this is important. ... When we’re on, we can beat anybody. But we’re also inconsistent enough that we can lose to anybody.”

editor's pick
PT's Casilli selected for Big 33 Football Classic


Peters Township High School wide receiver and defensive back Josh Casilli was one of 10 WPIAL players selected Wednesday for the Big 33 Football Classic.

The annual all-star event between Pennsylvania and Maryland will be held May 25 at Landis Field in Harrisburg.

“Coach (T.J.) Plack told me he nominated me for it after the season,” Casilli said. “I kind of forgot about it until I went on Twitter today. It was a nice surprise. It’s truly an honor.”

Casilli, a Penn recruit, helped lead Peters Township to its first ever WPIAL championship appearance as a senior this past season. The Indians lost to Gateway in the Class 5A title game, 21-20.

An Observer-Reporter Fabulous 15 member each of the past two seasons, Casilli had 49 receptions for 934 yards and 15 touchdowns this year for Peters Township. He finished with 358 yards and five touchdowns on 31 carries out of the Indians’ wildcat offense and intercepted four passes from his cornerback spot.

As a junior, he hauled in 49 passes for 934 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Casill could be leaving for Penn as early as July and said he’s excited strap up the shoulder pads one time before getting there.

“I’m excited to start fresh and new, battle for my position,” he said. “I am having some withdrawal right now watching (current members of the Peters Township football team) lifting and going through their offseason workouts.”

Casilli said he knows Gateway’s Tui Brown from playing him in the championship and is friends with Central Catholic’s Gusty Sunseri, two other WPIAL players selected as part of the Pennsylvania team.

The other seven players from the district that selected were Thomas Jefferson’s Logan Danielson and Mac Duda, Pine-Richland’s Levi Wentz, Penn Hills’ Aakeem Snell, Hempfield’s Cole Graham, Baldwin’s Naseer Penn and Marques Watson-Trent of Blackhawk.

Browns' Garrett reinstated by NFL from indefinite suspension

CLEVELAND – Myles Garrett is allowed to play and chase quarterbacks again after the NFL reinstated the Browns’ star defensive end from his indefinite suspension for a vicious attack on Pittsburgh QB Mason Rudolph last season.

The league lifted its ban Wednesday on Garrett, who ripped off Rudolph’s helmet and smashed him over the head with it during a Nov. 14 game on national television. Garrett missed Cleveland’s final six games and his loss was a major blow to the Browns, who went 2-4 without him, finished 6-10, fired coach Freddie Kitchens and saw general manager John Dorsey resign.

On Monday, Garrett met with Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials in the final step before he was cleared to return. He can participate in all of the Browns’ offseason activities and that’s a big relief as the team is undergoing another new start under coach Kevin Stefanski.

Garrett is cleared to return to all activities with the Browns.

“We welcome Myles back to our organization with open arms,” Browns vice president of football operations and GM Andrew Berry said. “We know he is grateful to be reinstated, eager to put the past behind him and continue to evolve and grow as a leader. We look forward to having his strong positive presence back as a teammate, player and person in our community.”

Garrett did not release a statement, but he posted a meme on his Twitter account of a scene from the film “John Wick” with the subtitle: “But now yeah, I’M THINKING I’M BACK!!!”

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield offered his support, tweeting: “welcome back big fella!!!”

As the Browns were wrapping up a rare win over the Steelers in a Thursday night matchup, Garrett, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017, pulled down Rudoplph after a pass attempt and the two wrestled on the ground. Rudolph tried to pull off Garrett’s helmet but couldn’t. Garrett ripped off Rudolph’s helmet and swung and struck him with it, triggering a brawl between the teams.

Garrett paid dearly for his misstep. He was fined $45,623 and lost $1.14 million in game checks. His reputation also took a shot and he’ll have to watch his behavior going forward as another violent incident could result in even harsher discipline by the league.

Garrett’s suspension is the longest for a single behavior in league history. Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth was suspended five games for stomping on a player’s helmet-less head in 2006.

Garrett appealed his ban and Garrett told independent officer James Thrash during his hearing that Rudolph had used a slur during their skirmish. However, Thrash upheld the decision and Garrett was done for the season. The league also suspended Steelers guard Maurkice Pouncey for three games (the penalty was later reduced to two) for punching and kicking Garrett, and Browns defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi was suspended one game.

Garrett was having a strong third season as a pro, but he was flagged for some unnecessary roughness penalties early in the season. He finished with 10 sacks in 10 games.

Shelton's 1st workout as Pirates' manager 'cool' experience

BRADENTON, Fla. – The smile never seemed to leave Derek Shelton’s face as he walked from one practice field to another while watching the Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitchers and catchers go through their first spring training workout.

Shelton was hired as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates on Nov. 27. However, it didn’t feel quite real until Wednesday.

“It was cool,” said Shelton, with a smile. “I’ve been waiting a long time to be out here. It was a little bit emotional.”

Shelton spent the previous 15 seasons as a coach with the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins. He was Rocco Baldelli’s bench coach last year when Minnesota won the AL Central.

Shelton replaces Clint Hurdle, who was fired on the final day of last season after a nine-year tenure. The Pirates had a 69-93 record and finished last in the NL Central for the first time since 2010.

The first day was even more special for Shelton with father Ron watching the workout from along one of the foul lines. Ron Shelton was a high school baseball coach in Illinois for 35 years.

“You’ll see my dad a lot,” Derek said. “He’s probably more excited than I am. It’s really special. He knows a lot about the game. I’m very fortunate because he has certain thoughts on things and how they should be done.

“Anytime you can share an experience like this with your family, especially your father, is special and a real bonding moment”

The Pirates also have new general manager Ben Cherington, who replaces Neal Huntington.

Yet Pittsburgh has made just a few changes to the roster since the end of last season. Many analysts are picking the Pirates to finish last again.

Not surprisingly, Shelton has a different outlook about his club.

“I’m excited about our group,” Shelton said. “I’ve said numerous times that we have a young core that has a chance to get better. The plan for spring training is to try to get better each day.”

Shelton did drop one bit of news, saying Keone Kela would begin the season as the closer. Felipe Vazquez was an All-Star the past two seasons but was arrested in September on felony charges stemming from an improper sexual relationship with a minor.

Kela converted 24 of 25 save opportunities for the Texas Rangers in 2018 before being traded to the Pirates in late July.

Kela says he’s excited about getting another chance to close and work with his new manager.

“(Shelton’s) message is to just have fun,” Kela said. “He’s waited a long time to be a manager. He has that passion and I think it’s going to resonate through the whole clubhouse. It’s a new feel. It’s a new vibe. I think it’s what everyone wants. We want to change the narrative of everything.”

Notes: The four players who went surgery during the offseason have reported to camp healthy: RHP Geoff Hartlieb (right foot), C Christian Kelley (left hand), INF/OF Erik Gonzalez (left foot) and OF Jason Martin (left shoulder). … The Pirates also have five new coaches in Don Kelly (bench), Oscar Marin (pitching), Tarrik Brock (first base), Mike Rabelo (assistant hitting) and Glenn Sherlock (catching). … The first full-squad workout is scheduled for Monday.