WPIAL football coaches brace for realignment
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With paper, pencil and maybe a map, some WPIAL football coaches have tried to predict the conference their team soon will call home.
But others are resigned to just wait.
“I've never been able to figure anything out correctly,” Monessen coach Andy Pacak said with a laugh. “I've quit trying.”
The speculation will end Tuesday when the WPIAL Board of Control reveals newly aligned football conferences for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Proposals for all four classifications were completed two weeks ago by a 14-person steering committee ordered to remain silent.
All four classes will change somewhat with teams added and subtracted, but Class A might look the most different. Among the key questions: Which Class A conference or conferences will newcomers Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette call home?
“They could make a powerhouse conference if they wanted to,” said Pacak, imagining the two Westmoreland County rivals joining Clairton and his Greyhounds in the Black Hills. “But I don't know if that would happen. When you look at it competitively, maybe they'll mix and match a little bit.”
With only four playoff qualifiers from each conference, there certainly would be stiff competition.
“I doubt very much that they would put all four of us in the same conference,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “But you'd call that a really powerful conference, wouldn't you?”
Those four teams combined for nine WPIAL titles in the past decade, led by Clairton's six.
“That would make it an even tougher conference than it already is,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said.
With just five miles between the schools, it seems likely that GCC and Jeannette should stay paired together when the WPIAL's 34 Class A teams are divided into four conferences. Two will have eight teams, and two will have nine.
The mostly Beaver County-based Big 7 should remain rather intact if Riverside replaces Sto-Rox and Laurel. But the landscape of the Black Hills, Eastern and Tri-County South could change.
“The committee uses geography as best they can,” WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said, “and once geography is protected, they will try to address the issue of competitive balance — if that's possible.”
Even when using geography to divide schools from eight counties into four conferences, the boundaries are debatable.
Consider: There are 10 Class A teams in Washington and Greene counties, yet they all can't stay together.
“I'm sure there's a lot of different ways they could look at it,” California coach Bo Teets said. “I guess we'll just have to wait and see what they mean by that.”
Much of the movement could revolve around GCC and Jeannette. If not the Black Hills, then one or both could head north to join the Eastern Conference, which traditionally has included schools around Pittsburgh and the Alle-Kiski Valley. GCC was a conference member there before joining Class AA in 2002.
“We were with Wilkinsburg, Riverview, Springdale, Clairton and Duquesne,” GCC coach Dan Mahoney said. “We thought it was a great conference. Maybe they'll put something like that back together, I don't know.”
Or, the two newcomers from Westmoreland County could join a revamped Tri-County South. Road trips to Greene County wouldn't be short, but their inclusion could boost competition.
“If they would take GCC, Jeannette, us and Monessen and put them into the Tri-County South, that goes from being what's considered the weakest conference in Class A to being a pretty stout conference,” said Teets, whose California team asked to switch from the Black Hills to the Tri-County South to renew rivalries with some Washington County neighbors.
Five teams left Class A for AA: Sto-Rox and Laurel from the Big 7, Apollo-Ridge and West Shamokin of the Eastern, and Carlynton from the Black Hills. Former Tri-County South school Geibel Catholic and Imani Christian of the Black Hills won't field WPIAL football teams.
Vincentian Academy, which didn't have a conference but played a Tri-County South schedule last season, will officially join a conference. Geographically, the Royals would appear to fit well into the Eastern.
Until Tuesday, it's all speculation.
“I think they're going to mix it up, shake it up a good bit,” Hall said.
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