In the late 2000s, I was on the Shady Side Academy coaching team. In my first season with the program, we competed in the lowest ranking (out of three rankings) in men’s football at the time.
While there are still some very good teams in this classification (Seton LaSalle and Sewickley Academy had very strong teams in those years as they won the WPIAL and PIAA titles), the rest of the landscape did not offer a lot of dignified competition throughout the season, especially in our section matches, which we had to face each team twice. There were many games and opponents that we were going to face and defeat with lopsided double-digit margins.
When the time came for the next round of PIAA reclassifications following the 2009 fall season, Shady Side athletic director Gene Deal, with the blessing of the football coaching staff, made the decision to move the team. boys’ football team in the classification of class 2A. This would put Shady Side in the same section as Mars, Hampton, Knoch, and other larger schools in terms of enrollment.
What this provided for the program was a more difficult schedule as we were placed in the same section with two schools (Hampton and Mars) winning the WPIAL and PIAA Class 2A Championships. Faced with this schedule, we had to face a more competitive roster throughout the season and in our section. On the one hand, we challenged Hampton and Mars in very close and competitive games, but we failed. In fact, this first season in Class 2A we failed to make it to the playoffs losing a few road games to other teams in our section which provided a little dose of reality for everyone. involved in the program.
However, if it had to be done again, we would have made the same decision.
The competition was much better, and despite a failure that season, many young players were thrown into the fire, facing tough and difficult situations against very good competition. This would help their development and the high standards of this boys’ soccer program, which has a tradition stretching back almost a century.
In the years that followed, Shady Side boys’ football never descended to the lowest rankings. Even later (after I was no longer a coach) the school captured consecutive WPIAL men’s soccer titles in Class 2A. Had we made the decision to stay in Class 1A at that time, I’m not sure the curriculum and standards for passing would have been the same in the years that followed.
This brings me to the present.
Once again, we’ve reached another transitional year for high schools in Pennsylvania, as the latest classification reports were released this week.
Following the publication this week of the PIAA reports for all sports, including men’s and women’s football, it was refreshing to learn later on Friday that some WPIAL schools have chosen to voluntarily reclassify their respective football programs.
Friday, Pittsburgh Football Now has released the classification reports along with our initial projections and allocations for WPIAL Boys Soccer and WPIAL GIrls Soccer for the 2022-23 / 2023-24 competition cycle. Even at the time of its publication, some things were still being worked out and WPIAL has yet to finalize what the sections will look like in each classification.
There was some rumbling about some of the schools that might choose to move up the rankings, but later on Friday Pittsburgh Sports Now released a list of all the schools that would make voluntary moves.
PIAA announces voluntary reclassification among WPIAL schools
Among the schools that will see their football program voluntarily evolve, despite the initial classification report designating schools in a lower classification, are the following:
- Jeannette – boys (2Y)
- Canton of Peters – boys (4A)
- Shaded side – girls (2A)
- Upper St. Clair – girls (4Y)
The PSN projections for each boys and girls football rankings will need to be updated (I’m working on it!), But that can only be a good thing.
Looking at these programs, Peters Township Men’s Soccer, led by Head Coach Bobby Dyer, has a long tradition of winning the WPIAL and PIAA titles. They have just won back-to-back Section 2 titles and finished second in WPIAL at Seneca Valley.
Switching to Class 3A competition would not have helped to keep this tradition of boys’ football programming at a high level and to maintain its lifelong rivalries with Canon-McMillan, Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon and the other teams from section 2.
The same applies to Upper St. Clair women’s soccer. This is another program with a long history of success in the highest classification. Although they were designated to descend, they chose to stay in the same competitive section.
While this is all refreshing, it also makes me wonder why don’t programs that are successful more consistently choose to progress?
Interestingly, the Moon Girls, who only moved up to Class 4A in the last reclassification cycle, come back down to Class 3A, even after winning the WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2021. Of course, there will be an interesting competition. and tough for the Class 3A Tigers as Mars won three consecutive WPIAL / PIAA crowns.
Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest if the daughters of Mars and the Moon moved up to grade 4A?
The other schools that have chosen to “play” are the Shady Side girls and the Jeannette boys. The Shady Side girls could very well be in contention to win the Class 1A Championships in the WPIAL and PIAA, but they have been there and have done it. They went through the first two years of the final cycle playing against a higher level of competition, only to fail against North Catholic and Avonworth in Class 2A.
The Jeannette boys are a very interesting case, but again they should be applauded for this move. Despite a pedestrian section record (5-5) they played in a match that was decided by a goal (a 3-2 victory over section rival Serra Catholic). Every other game was off balance, in one way or another. They had a few wins 15-0 and 14-1, in addition to section champion Greensburg Central Catholic who beat them by decisive margins.
What was interesting, however, was that when Jeannette faced Class 2A competition, she scored 12-0 and 5-2 wins over Derry and Yough, respectively. They advanced to the playoffs, ultimately losing 5-0 to future WPIAL / PIAA champion Winchester Thurston in the first round.
What does this say about lower classifications?
There are people who want to see private schools move away from the lowest level, but from a football point of view, it’s hard to understand because not all private schools completely dominate the competition year after year.
The best solution would be to have a competitive formula that already exists in football and basketball. Why can’t the PIAA institute this in boys ‘and girls’ football?
There are significant gaps between the haves and have-nots. Schools like Greensburg Central Catholic continue to stay in Class 1A, dominating for the most part the competition, while a school like Jeannette is either winning with wide margins against the many below par teams in this classification. / section but still unable to challenge the top two or three teams in this ranking.
In the case of Jeannette, it is a noble gesture to want to go up to class 2A. This way they move away from Greensburg Central Catholic, but also most likely find more competitive games on a regular basis.
They want a higher level of play for its program and its student-athletes.
Isn’t that what we want for every high school team and for every football player in WPIAL and PIAA?
I hope so.