Quaker Valley, Cornell share star athlete's skill

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Dane Jackson has one closet in his home with Cornell shirts and sweatshirts. He has another closet for Quaker Valley shirts and sweatshirts.

But no matter the school colors he wears -- and no matter the sport -- Jackson usually beats the pants off opponents.

Jackson is a two-sport star who has been terrific in football and basketball. His level of achievement makes him an unusual athlete. But really what sets Jackson apart is he is a two-sport star -- for two schools.

In the fall, it's Quaker Valley. In the winter, it's Cornell. In Jackson's mind, it is a little crazy.

"It was real unusual in the beginning, but I've kind of gotten used to it," Jackson said with a laugh.

Jackson lives in Coraopolis and is a junior at Cornell High School. But Cornell is one of the smallest schools in the WPIAL and dropped its football program after the 2011 season. Under a cooperative sponsorship, Cornell students can play football across the Ohio River at Quaker Valley. So Jackson puts on the black and gold of Quaker Valley and plays quarterback and defensive back for the Quakers.

But Cornell still has a boys basketball program, so Jackson wears the blue and gold of his home school come basketball season.

And there are few athletes around the WPIAL who excel at both sports as does Jackson.

"He's special," Quaker Valley football coach John Tortorea said.

In basketball, Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 170-pounder, is the second-leading scorer in the WPIAL. He is averaging 27.5 points a game.

In football, he led Quaker Valley to the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 1999 and helped the Quakers to their best season in three decades. The Quakers, a doormat program for more than a decade, finished 8-3. He had more than 2,000 yards offense in those 11 games (975 throwing and 1,111 rushing).

"It's not a good thing not to be able to play football at your home school," Jackson said. "But I'm kind of used to it now. We've been over at Quaker Valley two years now and they treat us well over there. I'm glad we're playing football over there."

Jackson said he has liked football and basketball for years, but his penchant for football has grown in the past two years. Maybe it's because he could have a Division I college future in football. Coaches from Pitt and Boston College have shown interest and are talking to Tortorea.

"Honestly, that kid can do whatever he wants to do and play whatever position he wants because he has that athleticism," Tortorea said. "He's electrifying when the ball is in his hands."

Jackson said, "I'm kind of hoping for a West Virginia [scholarship] offer because I've always been a West Virginia fan. But my options are open. I will play anywhere."

Even in high school.

John Challis book

John Challis was a former Freedom High School athlete whose courageous battle with cancer became a national story six years ago. Now his story will be told in a book.

"I Was Picked, The John Challis Story" is about Challis, his life and his inspirational journey through dealing with cancer. Challis died in August 2008.

The book is being published by Animal Media Group of Pittsburgh and written by Howard Shapiro. It is due for release in the summer.

"A book is something I always thought might happen," said John Challis' father, Scott Challis. "I'm tickled. To me, it's keeping John and his story alive."

Scott Challis came up with the title of the book. A few months before John Challis died, he said in an interview with the Post-Gazette, "Sometimes I just want to know why, but I think I figured that out. God wanted me to get sick because he knew I was strong enough to handle it."

A class of scorers

Maybe it says one WPIAL basketball classification is simply blessed with a number of players capable of putting up plenty of points. Or maybe it says it is easier to score loads of points in a small classification.

Whatever the reason, Class A basketball has a handful of big scorers this season. In the most recent WPIAL scoring statistics, six of the top seven scorers in the WPIAL are in Class A. They are Western Beaver's Nick Miller, Cornell's Jackson, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart's Cameron Johnson, Vincentian's Ryan Wolf, Carmichaels' Brandon Lawless and Mapletown's Dereck Riggleman.

The only player among the top seven scorers not in Class A is Hampton's Ryan Luther, a Pitt recruit who plays in Class AAAA.

Antelope uprising

A victory against previously undefeated Quaker Valley last week gave the Avonworth Antelopes boys basketball team some attention. It also brought up thoughts of something they haven't seen at Avonworth in a long time -- a section title.

Avonworth is atop the standings in Class AA Section 6. The previous time Avonworth won a section title, Richard Nixon was president and the three most popular TV shows were "All in the Family," "Sanford and Son" and "Chico and the Man."

That was 1974 and Avonworth was coached by Dave Williams. Today, they are coached by Dan Bradley, who is the only man in the WPIAL who is a head coach for a football and basketball team. He also is Sto-Rox's football coach.

Retirement for Nola?

Clairton football coach Tom Nola is again contemplating retirement.

He thought about it the past two years, but one of the main reasons he came back was Clairton's long winning streak, which was snapped at 66 this past season.

"I should know maybe by the end of the month," Nola said. "I don't know. One day it's yes and the next day it's no."

If Nola retires, he will walk away from a team that will have 19 returning starters.

"We only had four seniors on the team last year," Nola said.

WPIAL football realignment

The WPIAL football committee has already met to decide conference realignment for the next two years. The new conferences must be approved by the WPIAL Board of Control and will be released Jan. 21. One of the more interesting things to see is where the WPIAL puts Gateway and Jeannette. Gateway drops to Class AAA and Jeannette to Class A.

It's highly likely Gateway will be put in the Greater Allegheny Conference, which is sort of a northern/eastern conference. Franklin Regional and Greensburg Salem are two of the east teams in the conference, while Mars, Hampton and Knoch are in the north.

As for Jeannette, does the WPIAL put the Jayhawks in the Eastern Conference, which also includes some north teams, such as Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic? Or does the league put Jeannette into the Black Hills, which has Clairton?

For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.

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