Cager Classic celebrating 20 years of A-K Valley all-stars
For two decades, the Cager Classic all-star weekend has been the grand finale to the high school basketball season in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
The event turns 20 this year, and organizers not only are celebrating its longevity, but also memories of high-scoring games, highlight-reel plays and the camaraderie of years gone by.
“We've kept her going,” organizer Bill Heasley said. “The kids seem to like it. They give us accolades and say they're going to tell their friends. And it's a sellout every year.”
The event returns Saturday night at Highlands.
The A-K Valley has its cycle of events. There's racing at Lernerville Speedway, the Freeport International Baseball Invitational and the A-K Hall of Fame to name a few. These are unchanging, unrelenting events that serve a purpose and help define the local sports calendar.
The Cager Classic has a permanent spot on the list.
“I've always known about (the Cager),” said Springdale senior guard Alex Pane, who will play for the West team. “I knew there were always good players in it, and the games were always competitive.
“It means a lot to play in it, especially since my sister and my cousin played in it before.”
The Cager is about bringing rivals together, instilling the pride of family names through basketball and giving many of the better senior players from the area one last chance to play in front of local fans.
“We always get a good response,” Heasley said. “We try to emphasize fun. For many of these kids, this is their last go-around (in basketball).”
Seniors set out to cap their final seasons with a memorable weekend in Harrison.
“Playing with some of my friends that play on other teams is pretty cool, too,” Pane said. “So playing in the Cager and making memories definitely means a lot to me.”
Mars and Highlands have become rivals in Section 1, but the year-end Cager allows them to put aside their differences.
Highlands and Mars met in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals Friday.
“I'm real excited to play in it,” said Mars senior guard John Castello, another West player. “I don't really think there are any hard feelings between the two teams, though. We have great games against one another, and all want to win extremely bad.”
Freeport senior Zoe Soilis will get to play for her father one last time in high school. Fred Soilis will coach the West girls.
“I've gone to the Cager the last five years. I remember when Micah Mason played in it,” Zoe Soilis said. “So I set a goal to play in it by the time I was a senior, and it's even more special to be coached by my dad.”
Cager players often get to face opponents they not only see in WPIAL play, but also in AAU. That is the case with Soilis.
“I'm playing against my AAU teammate, Sadie Buchser (of Riverview), so that'll be fun,” she said.
The East leads the West in the all-time series 10-9 — both boys and girls.
Last year, the East boys won 110-109. The teams combined for a Cager-record 33 3-pointers, 19 from the West.
There was one fewer school for organizers to choose from this year with the merger of Ford City and Kittanning, giving them 19.
The Cager will honor one of its all-time great supporters. Terry Conroy, a long-time organizer and stat-keeper at the Cager, died last month after a battle with cancer. He was 69.
“He was one of the originals, going way back to 1997,” Heasley said. “We'll miss him dearly.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor for the Valley News Dispatch edition of the Tribune-Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.