By ERIC KNOPSNYDER
It’s time for the Golden Eagles to take flight.
Somerset’s athletic teams, which have been competing in the PIAA’s District 6 for more than two decades, have taken the first step toward returning to District 5.
The school board voted Monday night to ask District 6 to release Somerset so that it can petition District 5 for admission.
The District 6 committee is meeting in Hollidaysburg this afternoon, and a decision is expected quickly.
And rightfully so. The move seems to benefit everyone involved.
n District 6 could eliminate its most remote member. Every other school in the district is at least a half-hour’s drive from Somerset while some, like Lewistown, are nearly 2 ½ hours away.
n District 5 can add some star power to its lineup. Somerset would immediately become a top team in many sports. Not only would it help bolster the image of one of the smallest and most rural districts in the state, it would also give District 5 a showcase for some of its premier events.
Somerset has an artificial turf football field – the only one in District 5 – and could host playoff games that previously have been shipped off to grass fields that have been damaged by wear and tear as well as winter by the time November rolls around. Somerset also has a newly renovated baseball field as well as track and tennis facilities that rival any in District 5.
n Somerset County would benefit the most. Not only would Somerset Area High School benefit for the reasons mentioned above, but it would allow the Eagles to renew some of their traditional rivalries. While its teams still would compete in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference – the only school in Somerset County to do so – the move to District 5 would result in more competition against geographic rivals.
“I think you’ll see some of the old rivalries be reinvented,” said Scott Close, Somerset’s athletic director. “Wrestling will go into District 5 starting next year. You’ve got some traditional rivalries with Bedford and North Star that have sort of faded in the last few years.”
The affiliation with District 5 – which is comprised of schools in Somerset, Bedford and Fulton counties – has always made geographic sense. District 6 includes schools from Cambria, Blair, Indiana, Westmoreland, Huntingdon, Centre, Clearfield, Mifflin and Clinton counties.
The problem was that, by the 1980s, Somerset’s school district had grown too large for the rest of the schools in District 5. While neighboring schools like Rockwood and North Star were competing in Class A or Class AA in nearly every sport, Somerset was competing in Triple-A or even Quad-A levels.
“By the late ’80s, there was nothing we could compete in other than golf (in District 5),” Close said. “We had no one to compete against in District 5.”
The move made sense then, and it worked for nearly a quarter of a century. But
Somerset’s dwindling class sizes necessitate the move back to District 5. The Eagles have already dropped down to Class AA in sports such as football and wrestling, and when the classifications for the next two years came out, Close realized that it made sense for Somerset to make an immediate push to get back into District 5.
“It all came together real quickly here in the past month,” Close said. “We’re on a real tight time frame to have things in place for next year.”
Even if the move goes through, Somerset won’t be out of District 6 altogether. There are still some sports, such as boys and girls basketball, where the Golden Eagles will still be a part of District 6 Class AAA, much like Bedford is for some sports.
Baseball and softball would also likely remain in District 6 while Close expects the girls cross country and track and field programs, which will bump up to Triple-A for 2010-11 and 2011-12, to eventually drop back into Double-A and compete in District 5.
In addition to wrestling and football, the golf, boys track, boys cross country and boys and girls tennis teams would all be eligible to compete in District 5’s Class AA.
District 5 does not have enough Double-A teams in volleyball or boys or girls soccer to hold playoffs, so the Golden Eagles would also compete in District 6 for those sports.
The scenarios, while a bit confusing, make more sense than having Somerset stay in District 6 despite its location.
Now all Close can do is sit back and wait for the districts to vote on the proposed move.
“We’ve heard a lot of positive things,” he said. “(But) we can’t determine which way people will vote. I think it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved.”
Eric Knopsnyder is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat.