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Allegheny Conference gets new look with Armstrong County teams

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The Allegheny Conference is now just as much an Armstrong conference.

The WPIAL Board of Control approved fall sports alignments for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school year Tuesday, and the result is one Class AA football conference that lumps together five Armstrong County high schools — Kittanning, Ford City, West Shamokin, Freeport and Apollo-Ridge.

The remaining teams in the Allegheny Conference next season are returning members Burrell, Valley, Deer Lakes and Shady Side Academy, as well as newcomer Highlands.

Former members East Allegheny and Summit Academy moved to other Class AA conferences.

The conference looks challenging on paper, as six of the 10 teams in the league were playoff teams in 2013. Kittanning, Shady Side Academy and Valley were the Allegheny's top three last year, Highlands was a playoff team in the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference, and Apollo-Ridge and West Shamokin reached the postseason from the Class A Eastern Conference.

“I think, top to bottom, you're going to have your hands full each week,” Kittanning coach Frank Fabian said. “I think people wanted to see all of us together in one conference, and for the final season of our school, I'm glad we're going to see all those teams that we've had rivalries with over the years.”

Fabian's Wildcats won the conference title last year for the first time in 37 years, and repeating that feat could be more difficult than winning it the first time.

The newcomers to the conference also are excited for the new league.

West Shamokin coach Jon McCullough said when the enrollment numbers were released in the fall that he expected to be in a conference with Armstrong School District rivals Kittanning and Ford City, and that his team was ready for the challenge. Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba took to Twitter to express his approval of the new conference.

“Excited to be back in (Double) A playing great local teams! Embrace the challenge that lies ahead,” Skiba tweeted Tuesday.

One feature of the 10-team conference is that all nine regular seasons will now have an impact on the playoff chase. That will put pressure on every team from the opening game, but for the coach of the defending champs, it's really not much of a change.

“I kind of like it, to be honest. You never know how to approach nonconference games, especially when they come in the middle of the year,” Fabian said. “Every game means something now, and I'm a big fan of that. Week 1 is the week it could hurt you the most, but that's been a concern for us the last couple of years, so our kids should be used to it.”

The week-by-week schedules for teams will be released at a later date, so it's still unknown when the conference's biggest games will be played. It's also unknown how things will be changed for 2015, when Kittanning and Ford City complete their merger into Armstrong High School, which will be a Class AAA football school.

One thing is certain. The final year for Kittanning and Ford City will feature one last installment of the long-running rivalry, which is something Fabian, a Ford City graduate, is happy to see.

“I don't have a preference, but it would be neat if we played at either the beginning or the end of the year,” Fabian said. “I'm just glad to know we play them one more time.”

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