The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

High School Sports

August 28, 2013

Rockets’ void impacts opponents

Schools trying to find games to fill Rockwood’s spot

Rockwood’s decision to drop its varsity football program might have been the right move due to safety concerns. Most of the Rockets’ would-be opponents understand as much.

That won’t make life easier for the WestPAC teams scrambling to fill their respective voids in the schedule on late notice.

“Who do you pick up in the second date? I don’t know what you do,” said Blacklick Valley coach Bill Zamboni, whose Vikings were set to host Rockwood on Sept. 7. “It’s absolutely horrible for a small conference.”

Rockwood officials notified opponents on Monday night that the Rockets varsity program won’t play in 2013 after a roster that once stood at 26 at camp’s outset had dwindled to 12 players for a scrimmage last week against Tussey Mountain, according to the school’s superintendent Mark Bower.

“We still went to Tussey Mountain and scrimmaged,” Bower said. “We can’t do that week in and week out.”

Bower said a veteran player suffered a season-ending injury during the scrimmage, which dropped the number of players to 11 – or the exact number needed to field either an offensive or defensive unit.

“You can’t run a football season with 11 kids. It’s definitely not safe,” said District 5 Football Chairman Virgil Palumbo. “I agree with the decision the Rockwood adminstration made. It think it is a prudent decision for the safety of their kids.”

United overcame difficult circumstances to replace Rockwood on opening weekend.

The Lions and Rockets were to play Friday in Armagh.

Now, United will host District 7 Bishop Canevin at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

“I feel very fortunate that we were able to land a game,” said United Athletic Director Cullen Stokes, who said he received assistance from WestPAC official Paul Leonard and Palumbo.

When District 7 team Imani Christian dropped its football program earlier this month, Leonard and Palumbo stored away that knowledge – as well as Imani’s schedule.

Teams originally scheduled to play Imani now also were looking for games. The schedule was forwarded to all Rockwood opponents, and some of those have made progress filling their dates.

“United got Canevin, Windber is looking at Brentwood, and Conemaugh Township is looking at Chartiers Houston,” Palumbo said, noting the latter two hadn’t been finalized.

Conemaugh Valley, Portage and Blacklick haven’t found the right fit yet.

Blue Jays Athletic Director Paula McCleester contacted Monessen, an Imani Christian opponent, about playing on Oct. 11, but she said Monessen already found an opponent. Complicating matters is that Conemaugh Valley’s homecoming game against Rockwood was set to be the first night home game played at Thomas Yewcic Stadium. Valley made arrangements to rent portable lighting.

“I really feel bad and I know how it is with the numbers. It’s very unfortunate,” McCleester said of Rockwood’s situation. “The WestPAC did give us some schools to try to make up that game, but the school that had our date open has since been filled. I’m not sure what my options are going to be or how District 6 will handle it.

“That’s supposed to be our homecoming,” she added. “We’re working to fill that. We don’t want to match up with a Triple-A school or someone from Pittsburgh or Harrisburg.”

Portage also was set to have its homecoming game against Rockwood on Sept. 27. Veteran coach Gary Gouse also is concerned about the impact a potential open date would have on the Mustangs’ District 6-A rankings.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re scrambling like everybody,” Gouse said. “I feel bad for their kids but I don’t understand why they didn’t make this decision in the wintertime or in plenty of time for everyone to adjust. We’re all shaking our heads saying, ‘What now?’

“We’re in a tough spot. Those bonus points (in 6-A) mean so much at the end of the year,” Gouse added.

Zamboni said Blacklick’s options are limited.

“Serra Catholic is available but it’s 127 miles to go there. Really, there isn’t anybody,” Zamboni said. “You figure schedules are developed year-to-year in advance. I don’t think Rockwood was very fair to any of their colleagues in the league. I would have done whatever I could to encourage (participation), to be able to fill the team.”

Rockwood reestablished its football program in 2002 with a two-game schedule and played four games in 2003. In fact, Blacklick Valley was an opponent during each of those first two seasons as Rockwood went 0-6.

The Rockets were 4-5 in 2004 and followed with back-to-back 5-A playoff seasons in 2005 (7-3) and 2006 (6-4). Rockwood has had six straight losing seasons since then, including a 1-9 mark in 2012.

Overall, the program was 34-58 in 11 seasons during its second run. Rockwood had a co-op agreement with Turkeyfoot Valley that enabled players at that high school to be part of the Rockets’ team.

Originally, available records had Rockwood posting a 9-48-5 mark from 1922 to 1934.

“Today is a sad day,” Rockwood’s Bower said. “We made the decision on Monday night instead of waiting out of respect to those other schools. The only thing we can do is apologize for the timeliness. We certainly understand what goes into this. We didn’t want to make the decision on 4 o’clock on Friday evening and call United and say, ‘We can’t show up.’”

When informed that United had found an opponent, Bower enthusiastically responded, “That’s fantastic. That makes my day.”

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