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WPIAL approves Leechburg's request to leave

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 4:06 p.m.
File photo
Coach Ellis McCracken, shown in 2003 before the dedication of a monument to him outside Leechburg Veterans Field, led the Blue Devils to the WPIAL Class A football championship in 1953. In eight seasons, McCracken's teams compiled a 54-25 record, including four undefeated campaigns. McCracken died in 2004 in Syracuse, N.Y.

Leechburg Area School District crossed the first hurdle in its quest to move its athletic programs from the WPIAL to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association's District 6.

The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League's Board of Control voted unanimously on Wednesday afternoon to allow the school district to make the switch, effective July 1, 2014.

The board also said if Leechburg Area changes its mind and seeks to return to the WPIAL, the board might not allow it.

District 6 must accept Leechburg Area as a member, and the PIAA board of directors must approve the move.

Last month, the Leechburg Area School Board voted, 8-0, to request the move, citing the increasing number of private and parochial schools that are joining the WPIAL.

Those schools have no boundaries to obtain students, unlike a public school district.

Changing some of Leechburg Area's conference opponents in the WPIAL's biennial alignment was another concern, according to school district officials.

Leechburg Area would become a member of the Heritage Athletic Conference, comprised of nine small schools mostly in Indiana and Cambria counties.

There are no private or parochial schools in the Heritage Conference.

The WPIAL, also known as PIAA District 7, counts as members the schools situated in nine southwestern Pennsylvania counties.

District 6 consists of schools from Indiana County eastward to Mifflin County.

The WPIAL board added one caveat: If Leechburg Area decides, after a period as a District 6 member, it wants to return to the WPIAL, the WPIAL board would consider bringing Leechburg back only if there are an odd number of teams.

Such a move would prevent open dates for schools that need to scramble to get an opponent for a given game.

“You just can't come and go as you please,” WPIAL Executive Director Tim O'Malley said at Wednesday's meeting.

O'Malley cited Farrell, a longtime athletic powerhouse that left the WPIAL in 2005 and joined PIAA District 10, which is comprised of schools in northwestern Pennsylvania. Farrell wanted to return to the WPIAL in 2010, but District 10 officials denied the move.

Leechburg's football team hasn't had a winning season since 1991, and the girls basketball team has lost 25 consecutive games.

Leechburg Area school officials also cited the Heritage Conference sponsoring competitive cheerleading and debate as another reason to move.

The Heritage Conference was formed in 1998.

Leechburg Area had turned down two previous invitations from the Heritage Conference and remained in the WPIAL.

In addition to football and girls basketball, Leechburg sponsors teams in golf, boys basketball, girls volleyball, baseball and softball.

George Guido is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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