Ohio County Schools Officials: Uniforms at Ihlenfeld Event Were Not Political Endorsement

Four Wheeling Park High School football players wear their uniforms during a July 26 rally for West Virginia Senate candidate William Ihlenfeld. Photo by Jennifer Compston-Strough

WHEELING — Ohio County Schools officials said the appearance of Wheeling Park High School football players in uniform at a political event for Democratic state Senate candidate William Ihlenfeld did not constitute a political endorsement by the school district.

Wheeling Park athletes, in uniform, were paid to park cars at a July 26 event for Ihlenfeld’s campaign. The event was organized by and took place at Toriseva Law Offices on National Road in Wheeling.

Ihlenfeld is a graduate of Wheeling Park High School, has family members who work for the district and his children attend school in the district.

Ohio County Schools Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones said the school district isn’t endorsing any candidate in the race, and won’t take a political stand.

“I cannot comment about an event taking place at Toriseva Law offices that has nothing to do with the school district,” he said when asked if the football players, in uniform, appearing at the event constituted the district’s support for Ihlenfeld.

“It’s impossible for the school district to endorse a candidate, so it’s an impossible question to answer.”

Attorney Teresa Toriseva said she thought “the young men looked great” at the event wearing their uniforms.

“No one to my knowledge asked for or received any endorsement from WPHS or the players, or anyone associated with the school or the county board of education,” she said. “We contacted Coach (Chris) Daugherty and asked for young men who might be interested in working together to make a few bucks parking cars for an event at my office, since parking space is limited. … He had four speak up for the job, and we all agreed the jerseys would be good for safety (while they did) valet parking on busy National Road.”

Daugherty referred all comment to Jones and Superintendent Kim Miller.

“They get asked on occasion for things like this — clean up projects, etc.,” Jones said of Wheeling Park athletes. “The football coach didn’t even know what the event was for, and got his volunteers. Later the organizer asked if they could wear a Park shirt so they stood out as valet people and they could tell everyone to look for the kids in the Park shirts for parking help. The coach gave them jerseys to use to park cars.

“We do not and will not consciously get involved in politics,” said Jones. “I’ve spoken to the coach, and it was a mistake. It was not on purpose.”

Ihlenfeld did not immediately return calls Wednesday seeking comment.

He is challenging Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio — a graduate of Wheeling Central High School — in the Nov. 6 general election. Ihlenfeld gained support from the state’s public school teachers during their work stoppage earlier this year.

“For years in West Virginia we’ve been reading stories about politicians using taxpayer dollars to benefit themselves to get elected or re-elected to office,” Ferns said. “I think it’s unfortunate that my opponent would use the taxpayer-funded school system to further his political career, but I’m not completely surprised. My opponent was appointed by Barack Obama (as U.S. attorney), and Obama’s campaign team was the best at using the system for their benefit.”