The tides of change have begun in the world of high school sports in Pennsylvania; a change that is being graciously accepted by some, and unwanted by many.
The time has finally come for the PIAA to restructure the classifications, as well as create the first PIAA guidelines for some sports. For example, sports like lacrosse and field hockey will be classed based on enrollment standards set by the PIAA, instead of basing alignment off of program size.
While this realignment was needed to better organize the continuously changing class sizes of PA high schools, many individuals feel as if it just created more issues.
For example, Tim O’Malley, the WPIAL President does not necessarily feel that the realignment fixed anything. While not expressing his personal opinion on the issue, he does provide valid points to negative effects of the new division standards.
“No issues are ‘fixed’. The expanded classification was promoted to ‘level the playing field from an enrollment standpoint’. It did not accomplish this. Look at Shaler. One of smallest 6A schools with enrollment difference of approximately 1050 students,” O’Malley said.
The large gap in the enrollment of the 6A division is one issue that people hoped would be fixed. But instead, the mid-size schools from the Quad-A Northern Eight, Foothills, and Southeastern divisions were put in a combined classification with all of the biggest statistical “outlier” schools like North Allegheny, Butler Area, and Seneca Valley where the enrollment difference from top to bottom (North Allegheny and Peters Township respectively) is incredibly large, over 1000 as O’Malley stated.
In fact, if you split North Allegheny in half, based on their current enrollment numbers, each half of the school would qualify as two 5A schools for all sports.
Even with such a large gap within already, some schools are continuing to grow and others are shrinking. This poses the issue of another ‘realignment’ in the near future as teams on the border will certainly have the numbers to move up in the divisions.
“I look at is as a whole when down the line when you start comparing district to district you can look at Pine-Richland and say that we are in the same. We basically have the same student body count as they do. What happens in 5 years when they grow by 500? We might shrink by 10 or 100. And that concerns me because are you going move us down?” Shaler Area school board member Steve Romac said.
Changing class sizes will always be a relevant issue when trying to level the playing field, but some schools like Upper St. Clair that are in 5A are continuing to grow, and do not have very far to go till the pass up the smaller 6A schools.
“To put [Shaler] in 6A, is just to look at size alone, but I think there are other factors that come into play other than size. I believe that the classifications need to be gone over with a fine tooth comb. I think if you actually look at the projected path of a lot of these districts as to where they’re going, and where they are going to end up; you would save everyone with the ‘shuffling’ later,” Romac said.As well the highly criticized new divisions, there also is concern as to where the WPIAL will host its football championships, as playing six separate game in one day would certainly be impossible, and Heinz Field’s natural grass would not be able to withstand six games spread out over a weekend.
O’Malley expressed this concern in an interview done with Mike White for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“I do not want to be on the end of the phone when we tell a school you made it to the championship for the first time in your life, but you’re going to be playing at, say, Charleroi and not Heinz Field. What do we tell them? This is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement but this isn’t your year to play at Heinz?” O’Malley told the Post-Gazzete.
As well as the location of the championship, other traditions are being put to rest with the new realignment. Some traditions, being mainly rivalries that have attracted a lot of fans on Friday nights, are ones that more than likely will be lost. For example, one of the biggest rivalries in the WPIAL is Hampton v. Mars, and each year attracts larger amounts of fans than usual games do. But within the new standards of the realignment, Hampton and Mars will not play each other due to Mars moving to 4A and Hampton to 5A, even though they only have an enrollment difference of about thirty students.
“I would like to see rivalries continue. I think it makes for an exciting night atmosphere,” said Head Hampton football Coach Jacque DeMatteo.
With so many of these issues and concerns arising, people certainly wonder if the realignment was the best decision for the PIAA at this time.
In a survey created by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, seventy athletic directors responded with how they feel about the realignment. Only twenty-seven percent are in favor of the realignment, almost nineteen percent said WPIAL should drop out of PIAA football, and two athletic directors feel the WPIAL should drop out of the PIAA for all sports if the new alignment goes through.
As these issues continue to pile up, the PIAA is coming under pressure as to how they will fix these issues their new “solution” has created. Their most recent meeting was last week on Thursday, December 17, where they continued the debate on the new realignment.