East Penn School District officials declared their support for the championship Emmaus High School rifle team Monday night -- and took strong exception to people who arrived at the wrong conclusions regarding why the team’s picture was not included in the school yearbook.

“To say we do not support the rifle team is absurd and offensive,” said school board vice president Alan Earnshaw. “We are not afraid of guns. We are not ashamed that our students use those guns. We are proud of their accomplishments and we are pleased to support them.

“There has never been a hint that this board or any member of the administration has flagged in its commitment to provide this opportunity to students.”

East Penn Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger said he is “deeply saddened” by even the remote suggestion that the team’s picture was kept out of the yearbook because of the gun control issue. “I see no reason why someone should have even hinted at that.”

Earlier this month, school board candidate Chris Donatelli, whose son was on the championship rifle team, asked the board why the team’s photo was not in the new yearbook.

Donatelli got an answer at Monday’s school board meeting.

“This was nothing more than an oversight,” said Seidenberger. “The picture was misplaced.” He said the yearbook is put together by seven or eight students and a faculty advisor.

A CD of pictures apparently got misplaced somehow, echoed school board president Charles Ballard, who added: “Mistakes do happen.”

Earnshaw said yearbooks are student-run publications. “When we rely on students, the unfortunate fact is sometimes things get overlooked.”

Seidenberger gave the school board a report on the incident, but his report was not shared with the public. He said David Piperato, the high school’s principal, is having a yearbook insert prepared about the rifle team’s success for members of the team.

The superintendent read aloud two e-mails received by the school district, including one addressed to him, which he sarcastically called his favorite.

It stated rifle team members “are the future of America and will likely be Marine sharpshooters that will save your fat ass. You are a pathetic worm for not posting their accomplishments in the yearbook. You are less than a worm and have no right to be a superintendent of anything, other than a garbage can…May you rot in hell for your decisions to make these kids feel like they are doing something wrong.”

Seidenberger said the e-mail was signed but he believes the signature is fictitious.
Said Earnshaw: “Cowardly, anonymous people sent offensively worded e-mails, with no knowledge of the facts and no knowledge of what this district has done to support that team.

“This board and this administration have continued to provide support for that program. We have paid for coaching, we have paid for transportation, we have paid for supplies. We have signed contracts to arrange for a shooting range for our students to practice on.”

School officials said Emmaus is one of only five local high schools that have competitive rifle teams. The others are Freedom, Liberty, Salisbury and Southern Lehigh.

Ballard said he has been a supporter of the rifle team for the nearly 18 years he has served on the school board.

“It’s important that the public know that team is honored in other ways,” said Seidenberger. He said a banner inside the gymnasium soon will be updated to show the accomplishments of all the high school’s teams, including the rifle team. He said its accomplishments also are memorialized in trophy cases.

Ballard said the team’s success was announced by Dennis Ramella, the high school’s athletic director, in Athletic Capsule, which is distributed to all district employees, as well as on the school’s electronic marquee, athletic website and TV.

He said all team members will receive commemorative plaques and team pictures.

Seidenberger indicated Donatelli should have followed “the chain of command” by taking his concern to the high school’s administration before going to the school board. “Nonetheless, we took the complaints seriously,” said the superintendent.

Earnshaw said it was unfortunate Donatelli did not simply stick to the facts, rather than trying “to assume what motivations might be behind this.”

At that Sept. 9 meeting, Donatelli received no explanation from the school board or district administration regarding why the team photo was not included in the yearbook.

After that meeting, Donatelli was asked by a reporter if he thought the team’s photo was kept out of the yearbook because of the national debate over gun control. He responded: “I’d hate to think it would be that. We’re just trying to get answers.”

Said Earnshaw Monday: “It is truly unfortunate that motives were attempted to be ascribed. It’s even more unfortunate that the press gave credence to those allegations.”

Earnshaw also complained that during the last six or seven years, the high school’s band program also has been seriously under-represented in the yearbook. He said Emmaus High has up to four different band programs, but they usually are “represented by one photo of the marching band, if we’re lucky, in the yearbooks.”