South Xtra: WPIAL realignment affects Class AA, A schools the most

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Change is coming for many of the schools that field football teams in the WPIAL.

For schools in the Post-Gazette's South Xtra area, some of the changes are significant. But none would seem more profound than the change facing Greg Perry.

For the past 20 years, Perry has been on the coaching staff at Seton-LaSalle High School, a school with a storied tradition and annual quests to the WPIAL Class AA playoffs. But if the Rebels do make the trip from Mt. Lebanon to Heinz Field for the 2014 Class AA championship, it will be without the guiding force of Perry, the Rebels' head coach for the past nine years. That's because he will be doing everything he can to throw a roadblock in Seton-LaSalle's path. He will be well into his tenure as the head football coach at Keystone Oaks High School.

Other South Xtra-area schools just have to deal with new conferences and potentially new opponents. The most salient points about the WPIAL's realignment are as follows:

* Class AAAA: None of the South Xtra-area schools are directly affected by realignment, although the Southeastern Conference will drop one school, Plum, which has been moved to the Foothills Conference.

* Class AAA: All of the Triple-A schools in the South Xtra area are unaffected by realignment. The Big Nine Conference remains intact and Chartiers Valley will remain in the Parkway Conference, which also remains intact.

* Class AA: McGuffey and Burgettstown moved out of the Century Conference and joined the Interstate Conference. The two schools replaced Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic, who both dropped to Class A. Also, Yough left the Interstate to move up to Class AAA's Greater Allegheny Conference. The Cougars were replaced by Derry Area, which dropped from the Greater Allegheny. The Century Conference added East Allegheny, Carlynton and Sto-Rox. Those three schools join South Xtra-area schools Steel Valley, Keystone Oaks, South Allegheny, South Fayette, South Park and Seton-LaSalle.

* Class A: South Xtra-area Class A schools are greatly affected. Clairton, Monessen and Serra Catholic have left the Black Hills to join the Eastern Conference. With new members Jeannette and Greensburg Central joining the Eastern Conference, this likely will be considered the "power conference" in the class. Former Black Hills Conference members Brentwood, Bishop Canevin and Chartiers-Houston have all joined the Ohio Valley Conference.

Perry was in a great situation as Seton-LaSalle has been a solid, reliable Class AA program for a number of years. But it wasn't enough for the Keystone Oaks graduate.

"I was looking for a challenge," he said. "I knew what I had at Seton-LaSalle, but I went to school [at Keystone Oaks], and I thought I had a chance to get my foot in the door there. I just felt it was time to jump and see what I can do there."

Perry said he is eager to get started: "Kids get four years to enjoy the high school experience. We want to make the four years something they will remember.

"I think we're capable of turning the corner there, but it's up to the kids to absorb what they are learning. And it's up to the parents to have the commitment to being part of the program. Not being at practice is not acceptable, and the parents have to make the effort to make sure their kids are at practice."

Perry is not taking a long-range view about his program or the season.

"Our focus is going to be on Aug. 29, the first game of the season," he said. "I left a program that has lofty goals. Our goal is to win Week One. We're not worried about the other teams in the conference. Our only concern is with Keystone Oaks."

At Bishop Canevin, Darren Schoppe went through a first season where he succeeded the legendary Bob Jacoby and found himself competing in a Black Hills Conference that featured multiple WPIAL and PIAA state champion Clairton. Now, he and his Crusaders are moving into the Ohio Valley Conference, which features defending state champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.

Despite that huge obstacle, Schoppe is pleased with his new surroundings.

"Financially, [the OVC] is a big deal," he said. "I think 15 miles will be our farthest trip. Last year, we were driving 20 to 25 miles, and [Route] 51 can be a nightmare if you are going to Clairton [at rush hour]."

Chartiers-Houston, Brentwood and Fort Cherry also made the jump to the OVC, and Schoppe will appreciate seeing some familiar faces across the field.

But he's also happy to renew a rivalry with Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, a series that began back in the 1960s when both schools were members of the Pittsburgh Catholic League.

"There's a lot of history there, and they are the defending state champions," he said. "They are going to be getting a lot of new kids with them moving [to Cranberry Township]. That's the team to beat, and that's going to give us plenty of opportunity for some motivation."

And, having what amounts to a neighborhood rival with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart also appeals to him.

"OLSH is a school that we lose a lot of kids to," he said of the Moon-based school that is less than 15 miles from Bishop Canevin's Westwood campus. "The same type of kid who goes to their school goes to our school. So, it's going to be important that we win those games, and it's going to mean a lot more with them in our conference."

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