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Monday Morning Ramblings

8/30/2004 (MMR #1)

Welcome to the first installment of Monday Morning Ramblings.  This column will serve as my soapbox throughout the high school football season.  It will be an emotional “coming down” from the past weekend’s action.  Whereas the Saturday Game Report will tell an objective account of the game, this column will be a subjective account from the writer’s point of view. 


We may decide to stay solely on the topic of the Johnstown game, we may digress to another game in the district or we may go outside the district altogether.  You will never be sure what the MMR will exactly bring to you.  One thing is certain though, and that is we will strive to give high school football coverage the edginess that it currently lacks.  Now before you start flooding my e-mail box rest assured, you WILL NOT see personal attacks on any student athletes.  As a former Trojan I can tell you that one of the moments that will always stand out in my memory was getting booed as I came off the field after an offensive series against Connellsville at the Point Stadium in 1992.  I could not believe what I was hearing!  How could adults boo teenagers?  I am sure some of the boo-birds may have been intended for the coaching staff but I have never seen some preface a boo with “that was meant for Coach”!


Now this is not to say that certain schools will have elevated status while others will have to work harder to please me.  If your school starts with “Bishop” or ends with “Catholic”, as the boys on the Sopranos say:  FAHGET ABOUT IT!  I could write a Master’s Thesis on my negative feelings about private schools but I will choose to let those topics run their normal course.  Through the regular season I am sure the topic will come up; I can almost guarantee it.


Therefore, fear not, your 15 to 18-year-old sons are not at risk for inflammatory commentary.  Coaches, be afraid, BE VERY AFRAID!  You guys are open so you might as well put the bull’s eye on your back now.  All schools, all staffs, it does not matter.  I am brutally honest with my editorializing but I am fair, you will get the good and the bad.  Play calling is an especially touchy subject so do not try and re-invent the wheel. 


So, let’s get it started.  This weekend the regular season begins for the rest of the PIAA as the WPIAL started this past weekend.  2004 begins a two-year experiment that will most likely culminate in the end of the WPIAL’s membership in the PIAA.  It is truly amazing to me how little the PIAA titles seem to mean to WPIAL coaches in all sports.  This especially rings true in football.  Many teams’ dream seasons are capped off by a trip to Heinz Field (or Three Rivers Stadium previously) and WPIAL gold.  Everything after that is gravy.  Do you really think that Springdale Dynamo fans cared after their team lost to District 6 recruiting powerhouse Bishop Carroll last year in the PIAA semifinals?  Well, sure they did but the fact that they carried 68-year-old Chuck Wagner off the Heinz Field turf after beating a heavily favored Sto-Rox squad the week prior made it a little less bitter. 


Teams in the WPIAL are starting their seasons a week early because they want to maintain the importance of those district championship games.  There is a lack of drama after these games.  Where is the excitement when Central Catholic beats Upper Saint Clair at Heinz Field and the following week has to play State College in Wexford at North Allegheny High School?  Don’t get me wrong, NA’s facilities are beautiful, but there are not any professional teams playing there. 


The other wrinkle to the PIAA this season is that for the first time Philadelphia Public Schools will me a part of the mix.  These schools will be known as District 12 and will participate in the playoff system.  Although most pundits believe that Philly schools will make more of an impression on the landscape of basketball and track, this move does affect football.  In Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey the Thanksgiving Day rivalry game is a big deal.  If a team from District 12 or the “Pub” (short for Public League) were to advance there could be a conflict of interest.  I read last year about New Jersey teams playing their Thanksgiving Day game AND a playoff game on Saturday.  That is unbelievably irresponsible to ask teenage boys to play two football games in a matter of three days.  Even you old-timers that remember the Windber game know that JHS did not play another game that weekend.


If the PIAA really wanted this arrangement to work they would incorporate the idea that high school hockey has used in the past and have alternating years.  One year have the PIAA championships at Heinz Field, the next year at Lincoln Financial Field.  However, the general feeling is that a central location like Altoona or Hershey is better. 


Why is this relevant to the Trojan fan you ask?  All things in life are cyclical and I think that if JHS continues its success that many in the area will want them to leave the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.  That really only leaves one choice:  re-admission to the WPIAL.  The WPIAL turned down Altoona for membership this year and rightfully so.  They have no history in Blair County and it would be very taxing on schools traveling there, as well as Altoona traveling to play other AAAA opponents.  With Johnstown, there is history in both AAAA and AAA.  Cambria County is on the cusp of being just far enough to travel but not too far.  The longest trip would be around two hours and those would be few and far between. 


If you believed the hype that JHS playing the local District 6 schools was great for the community you only got the story half right.  Sure, it is easier for the print media and local television channels to cover the team.  However, when JHS entered the LHAC the program was coming off a four-year run in which they won a total of six games.  It took every bit of energy Bob Arcurio had to turn the program back from the dead after the McCabe/Cacciotti era (or what I like to call the “don’t you wish you had the memory eraser device from Men in Black” years).  That was just to get the team to .500!


My point is, it is fun to be the giant killer.  It is fun to kick someone when they are down.  Schools like Forest Hills, Bishop Carroll, and Central Cambria relish at the opportunity to beat up on a big school like Johnstown.  But hey, it is not as fun when you are taking the beatings.  A couple of winning seasons and all-state running backs later and you are at the check out line at your local Wines and Spirits getting a nice bottle of Merlot to go with that huge chunk of Cracker Barrel in your trunk.


Johnstown’s program is on the right track but still has a lot of work to do to get with the elite programs in AAA in the WPIAL and contend for state gold.   However, the current climate will probably prevent Johnstown from ever getting to Hershey.


But first things first, let’s beat Cambria Heights.


See you in Patton!


Doug Keklak can be reached at





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