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Leechburg Area coaches mixed about move to Heritage

| Thursday, June 20, 2013, 1:11 a.m.

Half of Leechburg Area coaches are neutral on whether the district should move its sports teams out of the WPIAL and into the Heritage Conference.

“My own personal opinion is, I don't care,” softball coach Jim Oberdorf said at a school board meeting Wednesday.

“I have all the confidence in my kids we can compete with anybody. I really have no preference who we play.”

Oberdorf was one of eight coaches who told the school board their thoughts on the move.

Half expressed no strong preference on way or the other. Three were against the move; one strongly favored it. The school board is revisiting the decision it made in March in the wake of strong public opposition.

For now, the district remains on course to move to the Heritage Conference, board President Terry Knepshield said. After hearing from coaches, the school board had no discussion and made no decisions.

Knepshield said board members will “digest” what they heard from the coaches, and they may or may not discuss it further at the board's next meeting July 10.

That will be just two weeks before the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association is scheduled to give final approval for Leechburg Area to leave District 7, which is the WPIAL, and move to District 6 and the Heritage Conference effective with the 2014-15 school year.

The PIAA delayed making a decision in May based on news reports of opposition to the move.

Board wanted coaches' input

Coaches appeared at the board's meeting Wednesday in response to school directors who wanted them to state publicly where they stood.

With all the energy of a Sunday sermon, boys varsity basketball coach Damian Davies was the strongest proponent of the district joining the Heritage Conference, which he said would be best for his team.

Davies said the change would get the district away from playing private schools with what he claims are recruited all-stars and in competition on a level playing field with similar rural, small schools. All of the schools in Heritage are public schools, he said.

“Everyone is going to have an equal opportunity to be successful,” he said.

He dismissed a major concern of residents and parents opposed, that students would face increased travel time to games and lose class time. He claimed travel times would not be significantly different.

His final point was that playing in the Heritage Conference would create rivalries, as all of the district's teams would play all of the same schools.

Golf coach Heath Shimer took the strongest stand against, saying the move would affect his team the most. As a teacher, coach and parent, Shimer said he was “adamantly against it.”

“Why are we really leaving? What's the underlying reason — to compete, or something else we don't really know?” he said.

Newly hired girls varsity volleyball coach Samantha Davis said she was “leaning against” moving to Heritage. Changing conferences doesn't mean Leechburg Area teams will become winners, she said.

“I'm not really sure if much is going to change,” she said. “Either way, I'm here to make the program better.”

Girls varsity basketball coach Joel Ceraso said he would support whatever decision the school board makes.

While bigger schools in the WPIAL are able to field deeper teams, making it harder for Leechburg to compete, he said he would find playing in the Heritage Conference “equally as challenging.”

“I just want to coach basketball,” he said.

Cheerleading coach Debbie Young said she could support the move if it was investigated more. She suggested the district not make the move now, and play scrimmage games against Heritage teams.

But, Young said, “As a parent, I'm not happy about this,” saying she didn't like the travel times.

Baseball coach ‘torn'

With a son and daughter in high school sports, baseball coach Bob Oberdorf said he was “torn.” He said he can see benefits, but understands the concerns.

He said his son and his son's friends want to stay in the WPIAL as a matter of pride.

“I don't think they want to turn their backs on something they started,” he said.

Football coach Mark George called it a “tough call,” but said he would support any decision the board makes.

George said his job is to prepare the boys, and everyone believes the team is making progress.

“I want them to be competitive,” he said.

George said a goal for the team is playing at Heinz Field, where WPIAL championship games are played. That's something it would not be able to do in the Heritage Conference.

“That's a goal for our football team and that's something we strive for,” he said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or

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