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Schenley sports will live on

| Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jason Bell's phone keeps ringing this week.

The first-year football coach at now-closed Schenley High School is trying to assure opposing coaches the Spartans' athletic program is alive and well for the 2008-09 school year.

"Everything is basically the same," Bell said. "Just the building is different."

The entire Schenley sports program, including 14 varsity teams, will compete this season despite Wednesday's 5-4 vote by the Pittsburgh Public School Board to shut down the 92-year-old school.

After the 2008-09 school year, no one is quite sure the fate of Schenley athletics, which has produced star basketball players such as Maurice Lucas, DeJuan Blair and Kenny Durrett.

"We know for certain that (this season) we are going to be OK," said Ken Saybel, Schenley's athletic director. "Beyond that, we're all a little bit confused about this whole thing."

City League director of athletics Mike Gavlik said the 2008 football schedule includes the Spartans. Schenley opens the season Aug. 29 against Westinghouse at Cupples Stadium.

Shady Side Academy football coach Dave Havern called Bell on Thursday regarding the school's closing and the impact on their August scrimmage.

"He was upset," Bell said. "A lot of people don't realize (we're still playing)."

Here is how it works: The students will be sent to the former Reizenstein Middle School in East Liberty, Frick School in Oakland, University Prep (the former Milliones Middle School) in the Hill District, or Peabody High. But they will all be considered Schenley students -- except for the incoming Peabody freshmen.

The official name is now Pittsburgh Schenley at Reizenstein.

"We'll just keep it Schenley," said Bell, noting that the same red and black uniforms will remain.

The football team will continue to practice on the field behind University Prep, being bussed from Reizenstein, where the vast majority of the varsity team will attend.

John Tokarski, a rising senior in football and baseball, said his Schenley teammates are wondering how it will work out.

"It kind of annoys me," he said. "I'm a captain on both teams, and I'm supposed to have leadership. (My teammates) ask me questions, and I don't have answers.

"I don't want to say it's an inconvenience, but compared to being at Schenley ... Now the locker room will be at (University Prep). What if we need some equipment cleaned or worked on• We're at Reizenstein. I think it wasn't thought all the way through."

Tokarski's sister Leeza will be a freshman this fall at Frick, where she will play soccer. But most of her teammates will be at Reizenstein.

"How's she supposed to bond with the team when she doesn't see them except for practice?" John Tokarski asked.

But Bell said the Spartans will get improved facilities, including a new locker room at University Prep. Many of the athletic facilities at Reizenstein are superior to those at Schenley. Vacant since the end of the 2005-06 school year, Reizenstein will have an enrollment of about 690 students in grades 10 through 12.

"It's a beautiful building," Saybel said. "As far as athletics go, it's positive."

At least half of the school's varsity sports will practice and play at Reizenstein, including basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball and wrestling, Saybel said.

Kevin Reid, a second-year boys' basketball coach, isn't excited about the new setup. He called the gym at Reizenstein "inadequate" even though it has similar seating capacity to the facility at Schenley.

"It's going to be almost impossible to run a sports program from four schools," he said. "But all of the coaches are going to try to get it to work."

Students who play for Schenley will take school buses to their practice site and, if needed, be given PAT bus cards to return home after practice.

As for the future of Spartans athletics, Saybel said it is futile to predict.

"We are in the dark now," Saybel said. "We don't know if kids from University Prep will play for us or if they will have their own team."

Bell, who expects about 65 players in the football program, is optimistic.

"Our kids will persevere," he said. "We had a tough year last year. One of our kids' house caught fire (during) practice. Another one of our kids was at a JV game when he found out his mom had passed away. Our kids have been through a lot. We'll take this in stride. We'll be OK."

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