PIAA basketball notebook: Attendance spikes in Hershey
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The state high school basketball championships returned to Hershey this weekend and so did the fans.
The two-day PIAA event at Giant Center had an attendance increase of more than 10,000 over last year's championships, which were held at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. This year's paid attendance was 24,582.
“We're really pleased with the weekend,” said Robert Lombardi, PIAA executive director.
The games were held at Penn State for the past six seasons, but Hershey had long before been the event's home from 1976-2006 (with one year, 1979, held in Pittsburgh).
The championship weekends drew more than 33,000 during the four years after Giant Center opened in 2002, and 30,340 attended the 2007 debut at Bryce Jordan Center. But attendance had declined while at Penn State, down to 14,421 last year.
“I think sometimes when you go to a place for the first year, you get a spike (in attendance),” Lombardi said. “We saw that when the Giant Center opened. We saw that at the Bryce Jordan Center. And I think you saw that now that we're coming back to Hershey. But I certainly hope we can continue the trend and keep this at 24,000 and rising.”
Lombardi credited several factors for aiding this year's rebound, including simply being a location more favorable for the state's large southeast population. But the PIAA also tried to make tickets more accessible earlier. And, most important, the finalists had exceptionally strong followings, including nearby Cumberland Valley of Mechanicsburg and Tri-Valley of Valley View.
“We had a number of schools that were community-based teams,” he said. “When you get a Tri-Valley (in the championship), then everybody's coming. ... But I do think there's a local fan base here for basketball that had been established over the years.”
This year's total for Saturday alone (14,463), was more than what attended both days combined last March (14,421). The PIAA has a four-year contract with Giant Center through 2016.
Attendance wasn't the ultimate reason the PIAA returned the basketball championship to Hershey. Penn State was bidding to host the NCAA women's basketball tournament and couldn't guarantee the PIAA its preferred date beyond this year, Lombardi said. Also, the rental price for Bryce Jordan Center was reportedly rising to near $100,000, while Giant Center could cost less than 25 percent of that total.
“They're old friends,” Lombardi said of Hershey and the Giant Center. “We've been there for years for wrestling. It's great working with them. We seem to have a great relationship.”
A banner year
The WPIAL also had its own rebound in Hershey, with three of the league's four finalists winning championships (South Park girls won in Class AAA, Beaver Falls boys in Class AA and Bishop Canevin girls in Class AA). That was an improvement over 2012, when WPIAL finalists went 1-5, or 2011, when they were 1-4.
This was the fourth time in the past decade that the WPIAL has won at least three state basketball titles in one season. The last time the WPIAL won more than three was 2004, when the Penn Hills boys, Moon boys, Sto-Rox boys and Monessen girls all won.
Vincentian Academy sophomore Brenna Wise said she's received scholarship offers from Pitt, Duquesne, Drexel and Providence, but she's not ready to make a commitment. The 6-foot-1 forward wants to improve her game while taking time to make a decision. Wise had 18 points and 18 rebounds in the PIAA Class A championship game loss to Tri-Valley, 59-42.
Bishop Canevin junior Alaina McGuire doesn't start and didn't attempt a shot against York Catholic, but McGuire's coach credited her defense as a key to victory. The 5-foot-7 guard played 10 minutes. Her most aggressive effort was when she got on the floor to grab a second-half loose ball away from the District 3 champion. That change of possession helped energize Canevin's game-winning rally.
“When Alaina McGuire came in off the bench, she really gave us a defensive spark,” Canevin coach Tim Joyce said.
“It seems like we've both been here 14 years; he's been here with me so long.” -- Beaver Falls coach Doug Biega on senior Drew Cook, a four-year starter who scored 15 points in Saturday's victory over Holy Cross in the PIAA Class AA championship.
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