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Guido: Leechburg welcomes move to District 6

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 1:11 a.m.
Members of the Leechburg football team are seen in this 1999 photo.
File photo
Members of the Leechburg football team are seen in this 1999 photo.

Leechburg High School could have Red Dragons, Comets and Stingers as part of its athletic future.

The school board voted last week to leave the WPIAL and join the PIAA District 6 Heritage Conference, effective in the fall of 2014.

The Heritage Conference was formed in 1999 to serve Class AA- and A-sized schools in Indiana and Cambria counties.

Blue Devils fans will have to get used the Purchase Line Red Dragons, the Penns Manor Comets, the Marion Center Stingers, the Blairsville Bobcats, the Ligonier Valley Rams, the Saltsburg Trojans, the United Lions, the Northern Cambria Colts and the Homer Center Wildcats.

It's no secret the Heritage Conference has been looking for a 10th member since Ligonier and Laurel Valley high schools merged in 2010.

Leechburg considered joining the Heritage as far back as the conference's planning stages in 1998, but officials at that time were worried about travel and breaking up old rivalries.

But more recently, WPIAL conference and section shuffles forced Leechburg into taking long road trips.

While the trips to Heritage schools range from Saltsburg (18 miles) to Northern Cambria (59 miles), recent WPIAL section basketball schools included Frazier, which is 48 miles from Leechburg, and Geibel, which is 46 miles.

Thus far, Leechburg Superintendent James Budzilek hasn't received any positive or negative feedback from the community.

“I haven't received any myself,” Budzilek said. “I liked the old AIC Conference rivalries. But recently, every two years, it seems the schools we're playing changed.”

Budzilek said playing the same schools in every sport, year in and year out, appeals to Leechburg.

The WPIAL Board of Control will consider Leechburg's request to transfer its membership to PIAA District 6 at its April meeting. If that occurs, District 6 would have to vote to accept Leechburg before the PIAA can approve the transfer.

“It's a PIAA constitutional issue,” said WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley of Leechburg's plans.

Budzilek also said Leechburg won't close the door on continuing to play area schools such as Apollo-Ridge, St. Joseph and Springdale if an open date amid Heritage Conference play surfaces.

But if Leechburg makes the playoffs, it would be as a District 6 school.

“I know there's travel,” Budzilek said. “But in the WPIAL, you travel anyway if you make the playoffs.”

Halas dies

Ed Halas, a starter on the first local basketball team to make the PIAA finals, died last week in Ross Township. He was 82.

Halas was a member of the 1948 Ford City basketball team that won the WPIAL title and made it to the PIAA finals before losing to Norristown at the Penn Palestra in Philadelphia.

Halas and his teammates finished 23-5 during the 1947-48 season under legendary coach Hube Rupert.

The Glassers, as Ford City was then called, defeated McKeesport for WPIAL honors.

Also, the 1948 title game was one of the first to be televised.

Halas was inducted into the Armstrong County Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.

Halas' passing leaves New Kensington resident Bill Englert as the only surviving starter from that team.

The Lance Jeter Game

On Sunday, Root Sports will show a replay of the Beaver Falls-Aliquippa WPIAL Class AA title game from Feb. 26, 2005. The telecast begins at 8 p.m.

The game will be shows as part of Root Sports' “Sunday Night Classics,” in which memorable games are rerun with commentary provided by those involved.

Beaver Falls guard Lance Jeter hit buzzer-beating shots twice from near midcourt twice to take an apparent victory away from Aliquippa. Beaver Falls won, 79-78, in the third overtime.

I have covered somewhere between 1,300 and 1,350 high school basketball games in 40 seasons, and that one was the best.

George Guido is a Valley News Dispatch scholastic sports correspondent. His column appears Wednesdays.

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