Dist. 5 playoffs 'watered down' in new PIAA system
The region of Franklin and Fulton counties covers two vastly different districts.
District 3 is one of the largest in the state, featuring schools ranging from Class 1A all the way up to 6A. District 5, on the other hand, is one of the smallest, with a total of just 22 schools. It doesn't even have three of the new PIAA classifications - it ranges from 1A to 3A, with only four schools - Somerset, Bedford, Chestnut Ridge and Everett - cracking the 3A class in a few sports.
In this area, all but one school will remain at the smallest tier in all sports. The McConnellsburg Spartans are the most affected by the recent reclassification - they jump to 2A in boys and girls basketball and baseball.
"One thing I don't like about (the reclassification) is it keeps stretching out the playing field," said Dane Pollock, McConnellsburg athletic director and boys basketball coach. "To me, it doesn't seem like there's that much of a difference between a 1A and a 3A schools. It just keeps thinning things out."
In Pollock's boys basketball case, a 1A school can have as many as 94 in male enrollment, while a school needs to have only 150 boys to be considered 3A. That's a difference of just 56 kids.
And what happens to schools right on the border of one class versus another?
Well, just ask McConnellsburg's girls basketball team. The Spartans' female enrollment is 97 girls. The requirement to be a 2A girls basketball team is having 97 girls.
"Until we get to the district level, I don't think we're going to see that much of a difference," McConnellsburg girls basketball coach Brent Seville said. "It kind of sucks for us because I was hoping next year would be our year to get a district championship because of what we have returning. It's still not out of the question as a 2A school, though."
Although the level of competition may theoretically be tougher, it should also be, on paper, easier to advance to the district championship game. Although fewer teams may advance to the District 5 playoffs, there are also fewer teams in each classification, so earning a spot in a final will be a shorter road.
"There's going to be more opportunities to win districts," Pollock said. "I can remember the days when it was like 15 teams, and you felt like you accomplished more. It's just watering down things, playoffs-wise. You're going to get teams into the playoffs that, record-wise, maybe shouldn't be there."
And in some Fulton County sports, the playoffs will lose one important aspect - the Southern Fulton vs. McConnellsburg rivalry, because the two teams are now in different classes in three key sports.
"I think it might add a little bit more to those (regular season) games," SF baseball coach Dustin Fischer said. "There's no playoff implications, but you want to beat them because that's your only chance."
Southern Fulton is one school that directly benefits from the reclassification. Staying down a class is a regular-season blessing in disguise for the Indians, who will be a 1A school playing in the mostly-2A Sideling Hill League and Inter-County Conference. Perennial powerhouses, especially in basketball and baseball, Southern Fulton can use the power rankings system to its advantage, as can other smaller local schools, like Forbes Road and Fannett-Metal.
"I love it," said a laughing Kent Hendershot, the Indians boys basketball coach. "It helps us for points with districts. But, the one area it does hurt us, we had a pretty good relationship with Greencastle, and they were 4A at the time. Now they're bumping up to 5A, and they can't afford to play us. Same thing with (James Buchanan), so that is a negative."
Forbes Road's field hockey has dealt with that problem for awhile. Come state playoff time, it has always hurt the Cardinals, but now, they are moving down to 1A. Forbes Road has always been successful during the regular season and in districts, but have a PIAA quarterfinal hump it needs to get over. Evening the playing field could be a benefit for the Cardinals.
"There are still some really strong teams that are always there, and I don't expect that to change," FR coach Carol Cline said. "For one thing, though, I know we won't be playing a Donegal or a Twin Valley. But you still have to get past like a Greenwood, but I just think, 'OK, well, maybe we have a shot.' We're always hopeful."