West Xtra: WPIAL football realignment shakes up AA, A conferences

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When it comes to WPIAL football, change is a constant.

With enrollments at various Western Pennsylvania high schools dipping or increasing, the league must realign its conferences and classifications every two years.

Some teams move up or down in classification, and the names of the conferences occasionally will change. In the case of Sto-Rox High School, the football team was forced to move up to Class AA when a clerical area put the Vikings in a higher classification. As far as coach Dan Bradley is concerned, the Vikings, who should be playing at the Class A level as they had for the past four years, will play the hand they've been dealt and do their best in the rugged Century Conference.

Here are the important changes that affect Post-Gazette West Xtra-area football teams as the result of the realignment announced last week:

* Class AA: Riverside dropped out of the Midwestern Athletic Conference and joined the Class A Big Seven (which has eight schools). But the MAC added two new teams, Summit Academy (moved from the Allegheny Conference) and Laurel, which moved up from the Class A Big Seven. Meanwhile, Sto-Rox (moved up from Class A Big Seven) and Carlynton (moved up from Class A Black Hills) have joined the Century Conference.

* Class A: Fort Cherry and two other teams from the Black Hills Conference -- Chartiers-Houston and Bishop Canevin -- are joining the newly formed Ohio Valley Conference along with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which was moved from the Big Seven Conference.

There were no changes in the Parkway Conference, which encompasses all of the Class AAA schools in the West Xtra area.

Bradley isn't sugar-coating the competition his team will face in the Century Conference, but he's not making excuses either.

"We're going to be in some tough games against some tough competition," he said. "We'll have South Fayette, the defending WPIAL and PIAA state champion on our schedule. That school along with Keystone Oaks and South Park are three of the larger schools in Class AA. Seton-LaSalle is very good, and all of these schools have great tradition in a very competitive conference."

The Vikings lost seven starters on offense and seven more on defense and return just 17 players from last year's WPIAL Class A runner-up team.

"Four of those 17 started on offense, and four more started on defense."

Bradley said his team has faced some of the teams in the Century in 7-on-7 competitions.

"We know we face a tough challenge, but we will do our best," he said. "We can't worry [about clerical errors]. We're going to do our best and play wherever they put us."

Meanwhile, Fort Cherry is also moving. But unlike Sto-Rox, the Rangers are making a lateral move and leaving behind the now-defunct Black Hills Conference and trading in yearly meetings with Clairton and Monessen for games with defending WPIAL and PIAA Class A champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and some other new opponents in the Ohio Valley Conference.

"We've scrimmaged Avonworth and Northgate in the past, and we know about North Catholic," Fort Cherry athletic director Tom Scarpone said. "And the four teams coming over from the Black Hills -- us, Bishop Canevin, Brentwood and Chartiers-Houston -- are perennial playoff teams. You had to be at your best every week in the Black Hills, and the same will be true in the Ohio Valley Conference."

Scarpone became the school's athletic director on July 1, 2013, and the Rangers' football team gave him a memorable season with a 10-2 record.

"They had a great season, and both of their losses were to Clairton," he said. "We're returning some good players, and we expect to have a competitive team. We've lost two starters from the offensive line, but the three coming back have started since they were freshmen."

With eight teams, the Ohio Valley Conference will have a seven-game conference schedule. Scarpone believes the OVC will be paired up with the eight-member Big Seven Conference, and expects teams from his conference to play two non-conference games against Big Seven teams.

He expects a similar arrangement for the Tri-County and Eastern conferences.

"The Tri-County and the Eastern will have nine teams each, so I expect those two will be paired up for non-conference games," he said.

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