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WPIAL announces its newest conference alignments for football

| Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 4:27 p.m.
Gateway running back Darin Franklin breaks through the McKeesport defensive line on his way to scoring a touchdown. As part of a realignment announced Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, Gateway, which dropped from Class AAAA to AAA, joins the Greater Allegheny Conference.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Jeannette defensive back Julian Batts (right) hits Greensburg Central Catholic running back Tyler Balla last season. Jeannette and Greensburg Catholic Central will be in the Class A Eastern Section under the WPIAL's realignment announced Tuesday.

This was quite a welcome to Class A.

The WPIAL created a fierce foursome when it grouped Class A newcomers Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette with traditional football powers Clairton and Monessen to form a powerful Eastern Conference for the 2014 and '15 seasons.

“Some of the people who didn't want us to go down will see how strong Class A can be,” said Jeannette coach Roy Hall, whose Jayhawks dropped from Class AA only after much debate about the competition. “We (the coaching staff) never believed it would be a cakewalk.”

The WPIAL Board of Control approved new conference alignments at Tuesday afternoon's meeting in Green Tree; the league reworks them every two years. All four classifications changed at least slightly, but Class A had the most significant shift in landscape.

Among the changes, the Black Hills Conference is gone, replaced by a newly named Ohio Valley that includes state champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.

Black Hills teams Clairton, Monessen and Serra Catholic moved to the Eastern Conference to join Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette, who dropped from Class AA. Eastern holdovers Leechburg, Riverview, Springdale and Wilkinsburg complete the eight-team group.

“It's a good conference,” said Clairton coach Tom Nola, whose Bears had a 66-game winning streak while in the Black Hills. “Those two teams (Jeannette and GCC) will really make it a tough conference.”

The new Eastern now owns 10 WPIAL titles since 2003, led by Clairton's six.

“It sure sounds like fun to me,” Monessen coach Andy Pacak said. “I'm looking forward to it. How could you not? You always want to play the best teams if you are worth anything.”

Assembling Class A required the most debate, said WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley. With geography as a key criteria, the steering committee assembled the conferences earlier this month.

Those recommendations remained confidential and unofficial until Tuesday.

“There are four very good teams in (the Eastern),” said O'Malley, but he noted that the new Ohio Valley also has strength.

Along with North Catholic, the eight-team conference includes Avonworth, Bishop Canevin, Brentwood, Chartiers-Houston, Fort Cherry, Northgate and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

“That probably, from top to bottom, is the most competitive (Class) A conference,” O'Malley said. “The weakest team in that conference very well might be OLSH, and they're not bad.”

Among other changes:

• Gateway's departure and Plum's switch from the Quad Central to the Quad East were the only Class AAAA changes. Gateway moved to the Class AAA Greater Allegheny.

• A key point of discussion in Class AAA was Yough, said O'Malley. Just up from Class AA, the Cougars were added to the Greater Allegheny rather than the much-closer Big 9, which includes neighbors Belle Vernon and Elizabeth Forward.

But that's likely to change next season. The upcoming merger of Class AA schools Ford City and Kittanning will force the WPIAL to rework some conferences and schedules for 2015.

• Class AA saw several changes. Carlynton, East Allegheny and Sto-Rox join the Century. Apollo-Ridge, Highlands and West Shamokin join the Allegheny. Laurel and Summit Academy join the Midwestern. Burgettstown, Derry and McGuffey join the Interstate, which lost Jeannette and GCC.

But Class A experienced the most movement.

The Tri-County South added California, and the Big Seven added Riverside and Vincentian Academy.

Moving to the Eastern is a homecoming of sorts for the two Westmoreland County schools. Jeannette shared a conference with Leechburg and Springdale in the early 1980s. GCC called the Eastern Conference home before joining Class AA in 2002.

“When I first started out, we were in the Eastern Conference and it was a heck of a conference,” GCC coach Dan Mahoney said. “Riverview had it going, Clairton was good. It was a great conference, so strong. I'm excited and fired up about it.”

The WPIAL also approved updated alignments Tuesday for cross country, golf, soccer, track, field hockey, volleyball and tennis.

Note: The WPIAL Board of Control will request Greensburg Central Catholic basketball coach Greg Bisignani attend a hearing Monday at league offices to examine his interaction with referees after the Centurions' overtime loss to McKeesport. The league received a complaint, O'Malley said.

Staff writers Paul Schofield, Dave Mackall and Jeff Oliver contributed. Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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