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Kittanning boys looking forward to soccer co-op with Ford City

| Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, 12:56 a.m.
Dakoda Fickes (right) challenges Ian Fleeger for a ball during a Kittanning soccer practice on Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. Fickes is a Ford City junior who is now able to play soccer for Kittanning due to a co-op arrangement between the two schools.

At Monday's Kittanning boys soccer practice, teammates called out “Ford City” when they wanted Dakoda Fickes' attention.

Fickes, an incoming Ford City junior, is fine with the unfamiliarity between himself and his teammates. He figures the name-learning will come in time.

For now, he's satisfied just to know he's a high school soccer player.

A co-op agreement, approved by the Armstrong School District's board of directors on July 30, has opened the door for Ford City athletes to join the Kittanning soccer program. Not enough time has passed for anyone to know how the arrangement will affect the Wildcats, who remain in Class AA. But there's widespread agreement among the team that a deeper pool of soccer prospects is a positive.

“We definitely need more players,” Kittanning senior Ian Fleeger said.

“I thought (the co-op) would happen for a while now. I knew there were Ford City kids that were interested the past couple years. I didn't think it'd happen this year. It kind of just came out of the blue.”

Kittanning athletic director Todd Harvey said the spontaneity took him by surprise, too. Ford City last fielded a team in 2000, and there was little, if any clamoring for a co-op in the years that followed.

But this summer, a few former Elderton players who were relocated to Ford City asked administrators about soccer. Principal Mike Cominos checked with Kittanning, and Harvey, after consulting with PIAA rules, realized a co-op would no longer mean a move up to Class AAA for the soccer program, which had long feared that scenario.

A change in PIAA regulations in May of 2011 created the agreeable conditions. The previous co-op rule required the host school to absorb the full enrollment figure of the other school. But in the new version, a host school inherited just 50 percent of the other school's enrollment. So Kittanning's male enrollment figure, 287, remained under the Class AA cutoff of 414 even after half of Ford City's 196 male athletes were added to the mix.

Fickes was the lone representative from Ford City at Monday's workout, which was the first since the school board's co-op approval.

A soccer player since age 5, Fickes found ways to participate in the sport at the youth level. But when he reached high school, he hit a roadblock. Until now, he satisfied his soccer bug by playing in an indoor league in Harmarville as part of a Freeport-based team.

Fickes is not sure who among his schoolmates might join him at Kittanning practices. He'd recruited two of his friends, Austin Smith and Andrew Hamilton, in the past, but he received little indication about their interest.

The Wildcats will take all the help they can get as they work toward a brighter future. They've won two Section 2-AA games in the past three seasons combined. They caught a break this season, though, as perennial WPIAL powers Mars and Hampton moved out of the section.

“We're really optimistic,” senior Hunter Bearer said. “We got some help both inside and outside of the section.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1321.

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