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Highmark Stadium hosting lengthy slate of high school soccer, football games

| Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, 10:24 p.m.

Pittsburgh's newest sports venue is about to transform into a high school haven.

Highmark Stadium, which previously was announced as the new home of the WPIAL soccer finals, has a slate of 21 varsity soccer games and three varsity football games lined up to keep the 3,500-seat park busy now that the home schedule is finished for its primary tenant, the Riverhounds.

The highlights of the schedule include the season-opening East-West Soccer Classic on Friday and Saturday and three of the four home football games for Central Catholic, including its Quad North matchup with defending state champion North Allegheny.

Quaker Valley boys soccer coach Gene Klein, who also serves as the Riverhounds' technical director, is happy that the East-West Classic will be played for the first time at a pro venue and with all admission free because of a sponsorship deal with First National Bank. The Quakers, along with Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair, are the western representatives in this year's classic.

“Our kids are really looking forward to it. We've been playing the East-West Classic for 20 years, and this takes it to a new level,” Klein said. “These are some of the top teams in the state, and I think they're all excited to play there.”

Fourteen other regular-season WPIAL soccer matchups, most of which will include JV and varsity games for the schools involved, will be held. Some of the proceeds from tickets sales to those matches will go back to the participating schools to add a fundraising element to the games.

Central Catholic will face Plum in the first of those games Sept. 3, but it's for the three home football games that the Vikings expect to see sellout crowds on the South Side.

“It's nice to have three of our four home games at Highmark. I think it's a real positive exchange for the stadium and for Central Catholic,” Vikings athletic director Chuck Crummie said.

“It's not on campus for us, but neither is Pitt's stadium. Time will tell if it becomes our regular home field, but discussions with the Riverhounds have been very positive.”

While football games will generate more revenue for the hosts than soccer games, that the new facility will be busy throughout the year is a perk for the teams involved and the stadium's management.

“The soccer is more of a fundraiser for the schools, while the football is a way to make money,” Crummie said. “The nice thing is that it will get more people to the stadium, and it might draw more fans that normally wouldn't go to a football game or a soccer game because they want to see the stadium. It's a pro facility, and it should generate interest.”

Perhaps the biggest thing for soccer fans is that, as the new home for the WPIAL soccer championships, Highmark Stadium gives local teams a destination similar to what football and basketball players look forward to.

“When high school football starts, the goal for all those kids is to get to Heinz Field,” Klein said.

“Having Highmark Stadium be willing to host the soccer championship gives a great incentive to soccer players to have that same goal of playing at a pro stadium.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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