Bob Palko and George Novak already have a sixth sense for this WPIAL championship stuff. Now they near the top of the stairway to seven.
It is a step no other WPIAL coach has taken.
Palko is in his 19th season as West Allegheny's coach; Novak is in his 27th as Woodland Hills' coach. They have led their teams to WPIAL championship games today at Heinz Field, and both have a chance to move into WPIAL lore.
Palko and Novak have won six WPIAL championships (one of Novak's titles came at Steel Valley; all of Palko's have come at West Allegheny).
They have been crowning WPIAL champions since 1914 and no coach has won seven titles outright.
New Castle's Phil Bridenbaugh won seven when he coached at New Castle from 1924-49, but one was a co-championship.
In 1932, there was no championship game and New Castle, McKeesport and Jeannette were declared co-champions.
Woodland Hills plays Central Catholic for the Class AAAA championship at 2 p.m.; West Allegheny meets Central Valley for the Class AAA title at 8. They are two of the four games that make up Super Saturday. Sto-Rox plays Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic for the Class A title at 11 a.m., and Aliquippa meets South Fayette for the Class AA championship at 5.
"I remember the first championship we played in was 1996 at Three Rivers Stadium," Novak said. "I remember we were warming up and [assistant coach] Odell Miller wanted to do something. I said, 'Odell, look around. Enjoy it. We may never get back here.' "
But Woodland Hills has gone to championship games again and again and again. So has West Allegheny.
Win or lose, Palko and Novak already are part of an elite club. They are two of only six coaches who have won six WPIAL titles. Besides those two and Bridenbaugh, the other three are Clairton's Tom Nola, Braddock's Chuck Klausing (one co-championship) and Art Walker, who won five at Mt. Lebanon and one at Shady Side Academy. Aliquippa's Mike Zmijanac could join the club today. He has five.
Although Palko and Novak are knocking on the door of WPIAL history, they aren't thinking much about themselves.
"Not to me personally, it doesn't mean that much. It means more to our program and our team," said Novak, who has guided Woodland Hills to its 10th title game. "They're all exciting, but they're all different, too. I think we have to be the underdogs again. This team, I'm so proud of them for bouncing back after two losses [to start the season]."
Palko is 6-0 in title games.
"I don't want people to think 'Who does that guy think he is?' " Palko said. "And I'm not saying you take any of these championships lightly or that I don't respect all the great guys who have coached. But you get so busy and entrenched in the kids year-round, it's like you don't have time to enjoy [the championships]. I don't know if I ever really enjoyed one.
"I mean, you win and the kids are all fired up and you cherish it. But you've got to right away think about the next game. You go right into playing in the state [PIAA] playoffs. Before you know it, it's Christmas and you're happy to be just with your own family. Then you come back after Christmas and start getting ready for next year."
Of all the 10 seasons when his team went to the title game, Novak said this year's road to the championship might have been the toughest.
"It's never easy," he said.
West Allegheny, meanwhile, takes a 12-0 record into the Class AAA title game. The Class A and AA finals are a battle of unbeatens.
"One thing is you don't take any of these [championship games] for granted," Palko said. "You have to treat it like you've never done it before. It's pretty cool to get there, but at the same time it's hard to do.
"I will be extremely humbled and honored to win, but it's not like it drives me. I do this for the kids and not for me.
"Regardless of what happens, the kids look at you. You always tell your kids to be humble about things. So you better be a model for them."