Guido: A tale of 2 school districts

Highlands' Elijah Jackson (28) runs the ball at Mars' Jake Rosswog (13) during the first half on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.
Highlands' Elijah Jackson (28) runs the ball at Mars' Jake Rosswog (13) during the first half on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.
Photo by Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 12:41 a.m.

While watching last Friday's Highlands-Mars showdown Tuesday, it presented a contrast in how those two school districts have changed in the last 30 years.

During the 1983-84 school year, Highlands was the second-smallest Class AAAA football school, but still the 27th-largest school in the WPIAL. This year, Highlands is the smallest Class AAA school and ranks 52nd among WPIAL football schools.

As for Mars, in 1983-84 the school had 587 students, played in the Class AA Allegheny Conference, and was the 79th-largest WPIAL school. This year, Mars has 763 students and is a Class AAA school, 42nd in size.

One reason for the shift is the 1984 high school graduating classes were pretty much the final vestige of the Baby Boom era.

Also in Western Pennsylvania, the collapse of heavy industry was happening before our eyes, and many parents with school-aged children were moving to other parts of the country where employment was abundant. Families who stayed had a lower birth rate.

Enrollment at many WPIAL schools, however, continues to plummet.

During the 1976-77 school year, Penn Hills had 3,845 students in the top three grades. People I know who went to Penn Hills at the time have told me the school was so huge that you would sit next to a person on graduation night that you had never seen. Now, Penn Hills has 1,377 students.

One retired Penn Hills teacher told me when he started in the school district in 1964, there were 18 buildings. Soon, there will be three.

The only schools seeing enrollment increases are those where farms have been turned into housing subdivisions such as Mars, Seneca Valley, Penn-Trafford, Peters Township, South Fayette and several others.

In 1983-84, Canon-McMillan was the 22nd-largest WPIAL football school. Now, with all the Marcellus shale-related development in Cecil Township, Canon-Mac is 14th.

Here are some other items related to enrollment:

• The largest high school in the WPIAL is North Allegheny with 2,063 students (1,078 boys and 985 girls). Butler was the biggest for many years.

• The smallest football high school is Geibel with 89 students (46 boys and 43 girls).

• The largest high school in the state, by far, is Reading with 4,255 students in the top three grades.

• Prior to the early 1990s, the PIAA considered the school population with boys and girls totals combined to classify football schools. Now, each gender is considered separately for classification purposes.

• Plum is the only local school to have played football in all four classifications over the years.

• In 1989, Pine-Richland played Class A football. Nineteen years later, in 2008, Pine-Richland was a Class AAAA school.

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

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