Former Keystone Bantam League teams form new league
Youth football teams from Westmoreland County and eastern Allegheny County will continue to compete against each other this summer, but they'll do so under the umbrella of a different organization.
Six members of the former Keystone Bantam League — Franklin Regional, Gateway, McKeesport, Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Plum — recently split from the association and formed the Big East Youth Football League. Starting in August, the six from the KBL, along with additions from Hempfield, Kiski and Latrobe, will play each other in three age divisions: 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12.
“We're up and running,” said Andy McGuire, president of the Franklin Area Midget Football Association. “We have the schedule made, we have referees scheduled and we have a rules committee together. Everything's been nailed down, and we're good to go. We're meeting every month, and things are pretty much set in stone at this point. We're just preparing for the season.”
The split with the KBL occurred after a disagreement over the age divisions.
Bob Rizzo, president of Norwin PAL football, said several of the teams in the league struggled on a yearly basis to draw players in the oldest KBL division, which was for 12- and 13-year-olds. Many players in that age group — typically seventh- and eighth-graders — opted to play football for their middle school teams instead of in the KBL.
The problem came to a head last season, when McKeesport and Penn-Trafford couldn't field teams in the oldest division because of a lack of players.
“It's always been a struggle between the middle school team and the rec team,” Rizzo said. “We've seen ebbs and flows where we've had higher numbers in some grades, lower numbers in others. It never really seemed to be any rhyme or reason. Some kids are more loyal and feel comfortable staying in an organization. Others want that middle school experience.”
The six teams in the new Big East league proposed changing the age divisions, but the other five in the old KBL — Jeannette, Morningside, Penn Hills, Steel Valley and Woodland Hills — weren't in favor. After a vote to change the age divisions failed at a KBL meeting in October, the six teams began to discuss forming their own league. They met for the first time in December and formed the Big East in January.
Hempfield, Kiski and Latrobe were sought because of their proximity to the other six teams in the league. Seven of the nine teams in the Big East come from districts that are part of the WPIAL's Quad East Conference.
“There's not a lot of travel involved, (and) there's natural rivalries built in with all of the organizations,” Rizzo said. “It worked out really, really well.”
Along with changing the age divisions, the league moved the date of birth cut-off from Aug. 1 to April to catch more players. Eighth-graders ineligible for the Big East because of their age will play football for their respective middle schools, which Rizzo believes will push more seventh-graders to the new league.
“If all the eighth-graders are playing at the middle school, then it's going to be harder for a seventh-grader, especially one that would be under the (155-pound) weight limit, to try to garner considerable playing time going against an entire class of eighth-grade boys,” Rizzo said. “From that perspective, the organizations felt it was a win-win.”
The lower division will also change.
“Our little team used to be 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds, with mostly 9-year-olds playing,” McGuire said. “Now we'll have 7- and 8-year-olds, and it'll be interesting to see how that level is able to play a real football game without any coaches on the field.”
Practices for the Big East's 2014 season will begin in early August, with games beginning later that month.