Citing low numbers and safety issues, Rockwood High School has dropped its varsity football program less than a week before the scheduled opening game at United.
United High School Athletic Director Cullen Stokes said the Lions have been able to find a replacement for Rockwood on short notice, and will play Bishop Canevin, a school located near Pittsburgh.
The game has been moved to Saturday at 1 p.m. in Armagh from the regularly scheduled Friday night date.
“Unfortunately (Monday) night we made the decision for safety reasons to cancel our varsity season,” Rockwood Superintendent Mark Bower said on Tuesday afternoon. “We went to Tussey Mountain (for a scrimmage game) on Friday night with 12 players. One of our seniors, one of the only two or three kids with any varsity experience, went out with a season-ending injury.
“We went back and took a look at how many kids we had at that point and just felt it was a safety concern and that we should not be participating on the varsity level.”
Football roster sizes of schools in The Tribune-Democrat’s coverage area vary, with Greater Johnstown High School (85), Bedford (62), Richland (58) and Portage (52) among the highest, and Ferndale (19), Conemaugh Valley (26) and Conemaugh Township (30) among the smaller numbers.
Rockwood was a member of the Western Pennsylvania Athletic Conference (WestPAC) and District 5. The Rockets also had a number of District 6 opponents on the schedule because of their WestPAC affiliation.
Those schools now are searching for replacements to fill the void in the schedule.
United’s Stokes said his school was fortunate to find an opponent on such short notice.
“We got an email (Monday) night from Rockwood that they were not playing,” Stokes said. “Luckily, there was a team in Pittsburgh that had to cancel their whole season.”
Imani Christian Academy, a small private school in the East Hills of Pittsburgh, reportedly folded its football team, which was a member of PIAA District 7, also known as the WPIAL. Stokes said he was provided Imani Christian’s schedule and contacted Bishop Canevin, which had been scheduled to play Imani on Saturday.
“I tried their Week 1 opponent. We got a game,” Stokes said. “We have to move to Saturday to allow the teams a little bit of time to prepare for each other.”
Conemaugh Valley Athletic Director Paula McCleester still is trying to find an opponent after multiple attempts failed on Tuesday.
The Oct. 11 date against Rockwood was Conemaugh Valley’s homecoming game. Valley also was set to make history after renting portable lighting to play the first home night game in the Blue Jays program history on that date. Those plans are in jeopardy, McCleester said.
“We do have a contract for the lights to be there a certain day for the weekend,” McCleester said. “We’ll try to fill that to make it an easy fix (and find another opponent). If not, we’ll have to move homecoming and the lights may not be available.
“The most important thing is to see how we can fill this hole in the schedule. We want to do this right. We want to make homecoming successful.”
There are different scenarios on how to address the situation should teams on Rockwood’s schedule be unable to find replacement opponents.
District 5 teams won’t be affected as much as those in District 6.
In District 5, playoff seedings are determined by a point system in which the teams accumulate points throughout the season and the total is divided by the number of games played. Playing one less game would not affect the team’s standing.
But District 6 traditionally determines seedings based on games played through 10 weeks.
“We have a District 6 meeting (on Sept. 11), and we’ll bring this to the committee’s attention and we’ll go from there,” District 6 football chairman Ralph Cecere of Portage said. “We’re hoping schools will actively seek and find opponents to fill that game.
“We understand Rockwood’s situation,” he said. “The safety of student-athletes is paramount.”
Cecere is the principal at Portage. He said the Mustangs’ homecoming game was set Sept. 27 against Rockwood.
“It’s rather difficult,” Cecere said. “My own district has been on the phone trying to find a game to fill that void. We’ve run into quite a few roadblocks. We’re doing everything we can as a school district to try to fill that game.
“Unfortunately for us, that was our homecoming game. We’re anxious to get somebody for that date.”
Rockwood’s Bower said the program’s long-term future will be examined later.
“Today is a sad day,” Bower said.
“That’s going to be a decision that the board is going to have to look at, where we’re going in the future,” he said. “We’re looking at what our junior high program had four years ago and how many have come over to varsity. How many junior high players do we have now? Is there a comparison? It’s a decision the board is going to have to consider over the next couple months.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.