Closings of Langley and Oliver shrink City League even more
May 20, 2012 9:44 AM
Oliver High School
Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette photos
Langley High School
By Mike White Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If City League athletics were a house, the wrecking ball would be taking aim again.
Langley and Oliver high schools will close at the end of the school year, a decision made by Pittsburgh Public Schools because of shrinking enrollment and huge financial problems. Although the closings don't totally demolish the City League, they knock more bricks from its foundation.
By this fall, City League sports will have only six teams, and some City schools will, for the first time, play in the WPIAL in some sports.
In the past two years, the City League has lost four teams to school closures -- Schenley, Peabody, Langley and Oliver. Although Obama/University Prep was added this past school year, the league isn't even half as big as it was 40 years ago.
Go back to 1972, and City League football had 13 teams that were divided into two sections.
"It's just a sign of the times," said Joe Zeglowitsch, a 63-year-old retired football coach at Oliver. Zeglowitsch played football at Perry in the City League and was a longtime teacher in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Seeing Oliver close tugs at Zeglowitsch's heart. In 2006, he coached the North Side school to its first City League football title since 1942.
"It's a shame, but, with enrollment dropping, you can't go out and invent kids," Zeglowitsch said. "I think the school board's hands are tied, and they have to do what's best for the district. But, of course, it hurts to see some of these sports traditions go."
Pat Carmack, 80, is a 1951 Langley graduate who later became the school's boys basketball coach for 20 seasons. In 1983, Carmack won one of only three City League basketball championships in the history of Langley, a school located in Sheraden.
"It's sad that Langley is closing, but the way things are going with the economy, enrollment and the education cuts from the state, I can understand it," said Carmack, who also was a health and physical education teacher at Langley. "But I wouldn't trade any of my years at Langley."
Both Langley and Oliver produced a running back who made it to the NFL -- Bobby Howard from Langley and Ray Zellars from Oliver.
Howard now lives in the Atlanta area, but, when visiting Pittsburgh last fall, he couldn't believe his eyes when he stopped at a Langley football practice. The Mustangs had trouble with player participation for a number of years.
"They only had about 20 kids on the team," Howard said.
In the fall, Langley students will attend Brashear, and Oliver students will go to Perry.
Howard said he understands why Pittsburgh Public School officials decided to close Langley, and Zellars said he also can understand why Oliver and Perry are combining.
"It's sad, but it's inevitable when enrollment keeps dropping," said Zellars, who lives on the North Side. This fall, four City League schools will play in the WPIAL in some sports, including soccer. The City League will not join the WPIAL for football, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls volleyball, boys and girls track and field, and wrestling. This setup will be for the next two years.
"We'll see how this goes for the next two years and go from there," said Mike Gavlik, director of athletics for the City League.
Some coaches hope the City League eventually dissolves and joins the WPIAL for all sports.
"I know there is an uproar from some communities about the schools closing," Howard said. "But I think people have to look at what is best for the child. Langley was a great school at one time and a beautiful structure. . . . The memories we have from there, no one can take away from you. But you have to keep moving on. The world is changing and the city is changing and you have to be able to adapt to change."