PIAA to examine six classes further ..... East-West basketball brackets voted down

Written by Mike White on .

The PIAA board of directors met today and the news on the six classification idea for football is that there is no news.

The PIAA is considering changing football from four to six classifications. There were basically eight proposals to consider. The PIAA could have picked one of the proposals and passed it on a first reading basis today. The proposal would then have to pass two more readings before going into effect in 2016.

But the PIAA voted to pass all eight proposals on a first reading. Some PIAA board members apparently want more time to examine the proposals. Also, by passing all the proposals, it gives the 12 districts around the statea chance to go back to their schools and district committees to examine the proposals more.

The plan is now for the PIAA strategic planning committee to meet in July to decide on one proposal. That proposal would then be put to the PIAA board of directors to pass on a second reading.

The proposal that seems to have the most support is the "Super 700" proposal. This is where 6A would have only schools with 700 or more boys in the top three grades. The remaining five classes would then be split evenly.

Under the "Super 700" plan, only three WPIAL schools would be in 6A - North Allegheny, Seneca Valley and Butler.

The WPIAL is against a 6A proposal for football only. The league says it isn't right to make the change just for football.

Honestly, this 6A thing is a mess. Some districts like the idea and some don't. My guess is it will be tough to pass.

In one other noteworthy thing from the meeting today, the idea of the PIAA returning to true east-west brackets for basketball is dead.

The PIAA's own basketball steering committee met a few months ago and recommended to the PIAA board that it return to east-west brackets. But the PIAA board ignored its own steering committee recommendation and voted down the idea today.

So, you will still see teams driving five hours across the state for quarterfinal and semifinal games, and you will continue sometimes having two Philadelphia teams play for a state championship.

The PIAA made the decision despite attendance dropping considerably for the basketball championships the past six to seven years. Philadelphia Catholic and Public teams making the title games has hurt attendance drastically.

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Central Catholic 1979: A team to remember with two GMs and a football Hall of Famer

Written by Mike White on .

The Central Catholic baseball team has made it to tonight's WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals, which puts the Vikings one win away from making it to a WPIAL championship for the first time since 1979.

It turns out that '79 baseball team is one for the ages. Not so much for what it accomplished, but for who was on the team.

Think of it: One high school baseball team in Western Pennsylvania had a future general manager in Major League Baseball, a future assistant GM in MLB and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. They were Mike Berger, Tony LaCava and Dan Marino.

The star catcher for that 1979 Central Catholic team was junior Mike Berger. He was in the news this week when he was promoted to GM of the Miami Marlins. Berger was assistant GM but moved up when former GM Dan Jennings moved to the field and became interim manager.

Berger was a fourth-round draft choice of the Pirates in 1980. That year, there were two outstanding senior catchers in the WPIAL. The other was Shaler's Doug Maggio, who was selected by the Phillies in the third round. Berger spent a number of years in the minor leagues, eventually playing in Class AAA for a few years with the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers organizations.

LaCava was a senior on that 1979 Central Catholic team and has been the Toronto Blue Jays assistant GM for close to a decade.

The star senior pitcher-shortstop for Central 36 years ago was a big-haired Dan Marino (check out his high school picture). Need we say any more about him except that he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? 

The '79 Central Catholic team made it to the WPIAL Class AAA title game before losing to Hopewell and also made it to the state semifinals before losing to State College. And there is a tie from that team to this year's squad. The coach of Central Catholic is Frank LaCava, who is the younger brother of the Toronto Blue Jays assistant GM.

On top of that, Central Catholic's coach in 1979 was Joe Emanuele. A former teacher at the school, he still follows all of Central Catholic's sports teams and was in the stands Tuesday when Central Catholic defeated Seneca Valley in the WPIAL semifinals.

Emanuele (pictured to the right) is a warm-hearted man who is still plugging along after suffering a stroke a few years ago. He is extremely proud of his Central Catholic coaching days and of that 1979 team. You should have seen him proudly light up with joy when, after the game Tuesday, he was told by a friend that Berger was named the Marlins' GM.

"Joe is the best," said Frank LaCava.

Frank LaCava knows plenty about that 1979 team because of his older brother. And considering what some of those players became in life, that was a highly unusual team. Again, do you think manyhigh school teams in the country have produced two GMs and a Pro Football Hall of Famer?

"I just talked to Mike Berger [on Monday]," said Frank LaCava. "Those guys from that team stay in touch."

You can bet the players on that '79 team have some great memories. It was a year when the entire PIAA tournament was played over the course of a few days in Shippensburg. Let's relive some of those memories:

**** Marino made his name as a football quarterback, but he was absolutely terrific as a baseball player. The Kansas City Royals took him in the fourth round of the MLB draft but he decided to play football at Pitt.

Marino finished with a 12-0 pitching record in 1979. In the WPIAL semifinals against Chartiers Valley, Marino pitched a four-hitter and Central Catholic won, 2-1.

**** Back then, there were no pitching rules in high school. There was talk of Marino coming back on two days rest and pitching in the championship game against Hopewell at West Field in Munhall. But Marino said his shoulder was tight before the title game, so he played shortstop. Under pitching rules today, Marino would not have been allowed to pitch.

Jim Watson and Mark Jones pitched for Central Catholic against Hopewell. Central Catholic came in with a 16-2 record, but lost to Hopewell, 4-0. Hopewell had coach Joe Colella, who would go on to coach the Vikings for more than four decades.

Not to bring up bad memories, but Marino had a throwing error in the fifth that led to a run to make it 2-0. Marino was 1 for 3 batting and was hit by a pitch. LaCava (pictured in his days as the Blue Jays assistant GM) was 0 for 3. Berger was 2 for 3, but Hopewell's Greg Candelmo struck him out to end the game. Candelmo, a 5-9, 200-pound fireplug, was terrific in the postseason.

**** After the WPIAL playoffs came the PIAA tournament. The PIAA started state playoffs only two years earlier. Penn Hills, under coach Neil Gordon, had made it to the state final in 1977 and 1978, winning once.

This time, Central Catholic thought it had a chance to win a state championship and all the baseball and softball teams that qualified for the PIAA tournaments traveled to Shippensburg, where the entire tournament was played over a few days. The following year, all of the baseball and softball tournaments were double elimination played over five days in Shippensburg. I was at that 1980 tournament and loved it. Games all day long for five consecutive days. Tremendous.

Anyway, in the 1979 first round, Marino pitched again and tossed a five-hitter as Central Catholic defeated Cedar Crest, 6-1.

**** Next came City League champion Langley in the quarterfinals. Central Catholic won, 3-2, in eight innings, and Marino and Berger were involved in the winning run. Marino walked for the third time in the game and eventually moved to third. Berger then drove him in with a long sacrifice fly. It was Berger's 41st RBI of the season, which was a school record.

**** In the semifinals, Central Catholic played State College and State College prevailed with a 13-11 win.

Central Catholic put up a valiant effort, though. The Vikings trailed, 13-6, entering the final inning, but scored five runs to make things interesting. LaCava, Berger and Marino all had hits in the rally. Rich Doverspike, a strong hitter for Central, had homered earlier in the game. But he hit into a double play to end the game.

Oh, the memories. Maybe Central Catholic is making some more this season.

"I'm enjoying coaching these guys because they compete," said coach Frank LaCava. "This isn't our most talented team, but they have found a bond with each other and that's the important thing. 

"Whenever I was over at Franklin Regional coaching under Larry Wayman, we won the WPIAL in 1997 and we weren't the most talented team that year, either. 

"I think we maybe had more talent the last few years. We lost to Pine-Richland [in the quarterfinals] two years ago. We thought that was our team to do it. But this team here has that bond."

Central Catholic will play Shaler in the semifinals tonight at 7 at North Allegheny. The game has an interesting twist to it. Shaler will likely pitch senior Gavin Cannon. He used to play for Central Catholic before transferring to Shaler after his sophomore year. 


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Former WPIAL athletes Walker-Kimbrough, Happ, McKay, Malone move into national spotlight

Written by Mike White on .

Everything from "Where Are They Now" to notes and anecdotes from the high school sports scene.

Over the course of the past six days, four former WPIAL athletes either accomplished a notable feat or were given a big honor on the college level.

It started last Thursday when Syracuse distance runner Margo Malone won the ACC championship in the 10,000-meter run at Tallahassee, Fla. Malone, junior and a graduate of North Hills High School, ran the event in 33 minutes, 33.69 seconds. It was a Mike Long Track record.

Malone is one of the best distance runners in NCAA Division I track and field. Her time earlier this year of 32:29.59 is the sixth-best in the country. She will compete in the NCAA championships June 10-15 in Eugene, Ore.

Then on Sunday, University of Maryland women's basketball player Shatori Walker-Kimbrough got a huge honor when she was named to the U.S. team for the Pan American Games.

Walker-Kimbrough is a Hopewell High School graduate who averaged 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game this past season as a sophomore at Maryland. She was a first-team all-Big Ten Conference selection and an honorable mention All-American. She helped Maryland reach the Final Four for the second consecutive season.

The Pan Am Games start July 8 in Toronto and the U.S. roster includes some of the best women's college players in the country, including Connecticut's Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson. One of Walker-Kimbrough's teammates at Maryland also received a big honor, making another national team. Brionna Jones was selected to the U.S. squad for the World University Games.

Then on Monday, Louisville baseball player Brendan McKay was named ACC Freshman of the Year. He was also a first-team all-ACC selection as a pitcher and a second-team all-ACC utility player. McKay, a graduate of Blackhawk High School, plays either first base or designated hitter when he doesn't pitch.

McKay has turned into a freshman sensation at Louisville. He is 8-2 as a pitcher with a 1.64 ERA. He has struck out 100 in 77 innings and allowed only 37 hits. He is No. 1 in the country in hits allowed per nine innings and his strikeouts-to-walks ratio is ninth.

McKay and Louisville are in the ACC tournament this week.

Then today came another big honor for a former WPIAL baseball player. University of Cincinnati junior Ian Happ was named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Happ is the first Cincinnati player to be named a conference player of the year since Josh Harrison was Big East Player of the Year in 2008.

Yes, THAT Josh Harrison of the Pirates. And you want to hear something else tying Happ and the Pirates? Baseball America has a mock draft and projects the Pirates, who pick 19th, to select Happ.

Just about every publication predicts Happ as a first-round draft choice. He finished the regular season leading the conference in average (.366), slugging percentage (.681) and one-base percentage (.490). He had 18 doubles, 45 runs scores, 14 home runs and 43 RBIs.

He also was named one of 30 finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top college player in the country.

Dukes to NCAAs

Three former WPIAL athletes now at Duquesne University qualified for the NCAA track and field championships and are on national lists.

Anna Simone (Mt. Lebanon High School) qualified in the 400 hurdles, Danica Snyder (Butler) in the 3000 steeplechase and Ian Welch (Central Catholic) in the triple jump and long jump. Welch is ranked 32nd in the country in the long jump and 57th in the triple. Simone is 32nd in the steeplechase and Simone 27th in the 400 hurdles.

Dix a "Crusader" for sports

I love hearing stories like this, when a high school kid shows the drive and attitude to "want" to be an athlete. It says here that too many kids and parents use the excuse that it is too hard to play two or more sports in high school these days. Just stop it. Sure it takes a lot, but it can be done. But it's up to the kid to "want" to do it. Many don't. Justin Dix apparently "wants" to be more than a one-sport athlete.

Listen to this one: Dix, a Bishop Canevin pitcher, fired a one-hitter Monday afternoon as the Crusaders beat Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, 1-0, in a WPIAL Class A quarterfinal game. After the game, he gets in a car with his father, drives to North Hills, hoping to play in a spring basketball league with his Bishop Canevin teammates.

Crazy, huh? Not really. Just an inspired kid apparently.

"I played him only a few minutes in the first half and didn't play him at all in the second half because I knew he had to be tired, and I didn't want to risk anything with him," said Bishop Canevin coach Kevin Trost. "His Dad said after the baseball game Justin begged him to take him to the basketball game. The Dad said he didn't want him to come, but Justin insisted on it.

"He started every game for us this year as a junior. He is a feel-good high school story. Not a major D1 kid who will be on ESPN, but a good kid who does well in school, works really hard and cares about his school and teammates."

Great to hear.

No. 1 seeds for track

The PIAA track and field championships are Friday and Saturday at Shippensburg University and 13 athletes from the WPIAL are No. 1 seeds, as well as one relay team. The No. 1 seeds are:

CLASS AAA BOYS - Ori Rinaman, Mars (110 hurdles), Jeff Van Kooten, Central Catholic (1,600), Matt McGoey, North Allegheny (3,200) and Jordan Geist, Knoch (shot put).

CLASS AA BOYS - Dom Perretta, Beaver Falls (800), Tre Tipton, Apollo-Ridge (long jump), Dom Westbay, Shenango (discus), Anthony Millner, New Brighton (triple jump), Aliquippa 400 relay team.

CLASS AAA GIRLS - Madison Wiltrout, Connellsville (javelin) and Madeleine Davison, North Allegheny, 3,200.

CLASS AA GIRLS - Ameriah Walters, Valley, (200) and Marianne Abdalah, Vincentian (3,200).




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Hines Ward to present 'positive' high school awards

Written by Mike White on .

More than two dozen high school athletes from Western Pennsylvania will be recognized tonight at the fourth annual C Harper Positive High School Athlete Awards.

All of the athletes will be honored by former Steeler Hines Ward and Lanny Frattare will serve as master of ceremonies for the event, which take place at 7 p.m. at the Heinz History Center in the Strip District.

A total of $31,000 in scholarship money will be awarded to the winners. Positive Athlete was created as a movement for more "positivity" in youth sports. Each athlete was required to show leadership and characteristics that show a positive attitude on and off the field.

The winners are Riley Karn, Fort Cherry; Moriah McGuire, McGuffey; Ryan Harkleroad, Upper St. Clair; Ashley Holt, Pa, Cyber Charter; Jim Knoerdel, South Side Beaver; Marisa Deichert, Laurel Highlands; Gino DePaoli, East Allegheny; Toni Koval, Carlynton; Luke Dzikiy, New Brighton; Courtney Wahlstrom, Seneca Valley; Jimmy Vita, Hampton.

Isabel Siergiej, Penn-Trafford, Carmen Palermo, Gateway; Ava Petrosky, Latrobe; Jake Trainor, Canon-McMillan, Mary Kathryn Bair, Hickory; Zachary Remaley, Mount Pleasant; Emma Buerger, Mt. Lebanon; Patrick O'Connor, Seneca Valley; Olivia Szalanski, Highlands; Hunter Armstrong, Lakeview; Nina Tyskiewicz, South Allegheny;  Kris Silbaugh, Cambridge Springs, Maggie McDermott, Kiski Area; Marco Marinelli, Thomas Jefferson; Danijela Jergan, North Allegheny, Jessica Johnson, Connellsville; Dylan Porter, Thomas Jefferson.

Coaches who will be honored are Joe Everhart of Uniontown and Jen McCrady of Fox Chapel.

Also, South Side Beaver will be honored as the Highmark Most Positive High School.

Each of the athletes will receive a $500 scholarship from the Jeff Boynton Scholarship Fund, named after a former Plum football star who was paralyzed while playing in a 1979 summer all-star game. 

Also, there will be $5,000 scholarships given to a "Mylan Male and Female Positive Athletes of the Year";  A $2,200 Jeff Boynton Memorial Scholarship; two $1,000 scholarships to the "UPMC Sports Medicine Comeback Player Awards"; a $1,000 scholarship to a girl for the "Knichel Logistics Title IX Award."


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WPIAL should change how it schedules baseball playoffs

Written by Mike White on .

The WPIAL baseball committee meets today to determine playoff pairings and seedings. That means it's time for me to go on my soapbox about the way the committee schedules playoff games.

Let's put it this way: Is there any level of baseball, from 9- and 10-year olds through college, where a team is able to use the same pitcher in the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship of a tournament? Silly, isn't it? But not for the WPIAL playoffs.

You get to the quarterfinals and have an ace pitcher? There is a good chance you can use him for three consecutive games.

North Allegheny athletic director Bob Bozzuto is the chairperson of the baseball committee. Here's to hoping Bob and the crew change things this season. I'm not the only one who has thought the WPIAL scheduling doesn't make sense. Many coaches have said the same thing.

It doesn't seem to make sense that the WPIAL schedule for the regular season doesn't allow for the same pitcher to work three consecutive games. So why in the playoffs? Why not make it so a team needs more than one pitcher? Hey, this isn't supposed to be softball.

I don't know when it exactly started, but the WPIAL started making the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals so far apart that one pitcher could work all three games. It has happened a number of times in previous years. I'm sorry, there is no good reason things should be that way.

The schedule usually works like this: The first round and the quarterfinals are played only a few days apart. But the semifinals and finals are played far enough apart to use the same pitcher in the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship. So a team can use the No. 2 pitcher in the first round, win and then use the ace for the next three games. Some teams receive a first-round bye. Those teams don't even have to use a No. 2 pitcher at all.

It really is easy to fix. Make the quarterfinals and semifinals only two days apart, so the same pitcher can't work both of those games. So the schedule would work this way: First-round games are played Monday and Tuesday of next week. The quarterfinals are scheduled for, say, the following Saturday (May 16) and the semifinals for two days later. Then there is a week off for the fianls.

Or if you want to stay away from Saturday games, play the quarterfinals Monday, May 18, and the semifinals two days later. Obviously, things get moved back if it rains.

So come on WPIAL, make it more like a real baseball tournament. Even many coaches have scratched their heads about the scheduling previous years. This isn't softball.

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