High school football teams across Pennsylvania had the first of three required heat-acclimatization practices Wednesday. For Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic players, there is a litany of other things to get acclimated with this year.
New school. New practice fields. New route to school. Some new classmates. New sports at the school.
Just call this Cardinal Wuerl New Catholic.
The old school in the Troy Hill section of the city graduated its final class in June. The new school on Route 228 in Cranberry is 20.5 miles away. Newness can create apprehension, and North Catholic athletic director Mike Burrell said it has been a challenge blending the old with the new.
But the new North Catholic also has created a buzz.
The football team is the defending WPIAL and PIAA champions. The buzz, though, isn’t just among North Catholic’s coaches and athletes. Around the WPIAL, coaches and administrators know this is a school that could have a big impact in sports this year and in the future because of the potential growth of the school’s enrollment and the possible success of its athletic teams. Cranberry and surrounding areas in the North suburbs continue to grow. Freshman enrollment at North Catholic this year is up 83 percent from a year ago.
“We tried to pack up almost 75 years of history from the old school and move it out here,” Burrell said. “We threw nothing away. It has been a challenge, no doubt. It has been a crazy time. But it’s a fun crazy time.”
The football team has 49 players, which is about a dozen more than a year ago. A 49-player team is considered fairly large for Class A. North Catholic was placed in Class A based on its enrollment figures of a year ago. The WPIAL and PIAA reclassifies every two years, based on enrollments.
“I think we have a great program right now, but it could possibly get better because obviously our enrollment is going to go up,” football coach Bob Ravenstahl said. “Whether we go to Class AA or even AAA will be determined.”
North Catholic has a number of key players returning from a year ago, including running backs P.J. Fulmore and Jerome Turner. Quarterback Adam Sharlow is back after missing the second half the 2013 season because of a knee injury.
“I think there is excitement just because we are coming back as defending state champions,” Ravenstahl said. “The kids are excited and have high aspirations again, but we know there will be a target on us this year with every game we play.”
According to Burrell, the school has about 30 transfer students in grades 10-12 and about 270 students overall in grades 9-12. A year ago, the school had fewer than 200 students. The freshman class has 110 students compared to about 60 in 2013-14.
Coaches at other North suburban schools such as Seneca Valley, Mars, Pine-Richland, North Allegheny and North Hills won’t say it on the record, but they know they might lose athletes in the future to North Catholic. North Catholic also could attract some students that might otherwise go to Catholic schools such as Vincentian and Quigley. Some students in Wexford who might have gone to Central Catholic might choose North Catholic now.
The cost to attend North Catholic is $10,500 per year, although the school provides financial aid based on need.
“The school building is designed to hold up to 1,000 students,” Burrell said. “Our demographics obviously have changed a little bit. We have a small spike in transfers from areas such as Mars or Seneca Valley. But we plan on providing transportation for everyone, so we don’t lose the city aspect of our school.”
There are new athletic facilities at the new school. There is a sparkling 1,400-seat gym. Baseball, softball and soccer fields are being built. But a multipurpose practice facility that will be used for football practices is a year away. The football team is practicing this week at Lindner Field in Cranberry but will then move to nearby Graham Park in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Sportsplex.
But, like most Catholic high schools in Allegheny County, North Catholic doesn’t have its own stadium, although the school hopes to build one on campus (“We have the room,” Burrell said). North Catholic will continue to play home football games at Stone Field in North Park.
North Catholic also has added some new sports that will compete in the WPIAL, including girls soccer, boys and girls cross country and boys lacrosse. Those are in addition to football, boys soccer, girls volleyball, wrestling, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball. The school also has crew and club swimming and hopes to join the WPIAL soon in track and field and swimming.
But North Catholic hasn’t forgotten its past. Banners, trophies and old pictures from the old gym were brought to Cranberry. The victory bell also will come from Troy Hill.
“We even kept the old Catholic League championship banners to put up,” Burrell said. “Nothing was left behind. All of the old stuff will remain part of the new school.”
For more on high school sports, go to “Varsity Blog” at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.