Varsity Notebook: Hempfield joining a 'Rich' tradition
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Just call it a "Rich" tradition.
Rich Bowen takes over a downtrodden high school football program and turns it around. Over the past few decades, Bowen performed his coaching magic at three different schools, including two stints at one school.
Judging from the first week of the season, Bowen just might be on the edge of ordering another about-face with a football program. Get this: Hempfield has a legitimate shot at going 2-0. Please, don't choke on your morning coffee.
Bowen is in his first season as Hempfield's coach. After shaking the WPIAL Class AAAA tree and knocking McKeesport to the ground, 33-18, in the season opener, Hempfield plays its first home game tonight against a Latrobe team that was shellacked by Gateway last week. Going 2-0 might not sound like much, but at Hempfield the Spartans have failed to win two games in an entire season five times since 2000. They were 1-8 the past two seasons.
Hempfield hasn't had many Spartan-like efforts over the past couple decades. Hempfield has won only 25 games since 2000. Heck, Hempfield has been 2-0 only two times in the past 20 years (2004 and 1995). The Spartans haven't started 3-0 since 1988 and haven't had a winning season since 1997.
But eyes bulged all over the WPIAL at Hempfield's road win against McKeesport. Is this "Rich" tradition about to hit Hempfield? Is he on the cusp of turning around another program, like he did at Serra in two stints, and like he did at Yough and Elizabeth Forward?
"I guess that's why I'm just a nervous wreck," the 48-year-old Bowen said with a laugh. "When you knock off a perennially strong team in the first game, it can make for a lot of expectations. We just have to handle it right.
"Obviously, when you take over a program that hasn't won much in, what, 15 or 20 years, a win like McKeesport is big. It's a signature win. It's something to build on. But again, we have to be cautious. One win does not make a season or program.
"We're still in our infancy stage here and still just trying to do the right things. We have a shot at winning games this year, but the last thing we can let happen is to let these kids feel they've arrived."
But when Bowen arrives as coach at a school, good things seem to happen. His spread offense was impressive against McKeesport.
"We'll go anywhere from no backs and five receivers to a two tight end set," Bowen said. "We actually don't run a whole heck of a lot of plays. We just want to make it look like we are."
He laughed. But suddenly, Hempfield football is no laughing matter.
Fewer boys played high school sports in the country last year.
According to an annual survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, boys participation dropped for the first time since 1992-93 with 9,419 fewer athletes in the 2011-12 school year. Seven of the top 10 boys sports dropped in participation -- football, track and field, basketball, wrestling, tennis, golf, and swimming and diving. Baseball, soccer and cross country were top 10 sports that had increases in participation.
Overall, Pennsylvania was sixth in most participants (boys and girls) with 317,869.
Three WPIAL football players have been selected to play in two prestigious national all-star games.
Clairton receiver Tyler Boyd has been selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Jan. 5 in San Antonio. The game will be televised live by NBC.
Central Valley receiver Robert Foster and Belle Vernon offensive lineman Dorian Johnson have been selected to play in the Under Armour All-American Game in St. Petersburg, Fla., Jan. 4. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Both games feature the top players in the country.
It is not often you see brothers score touchdowns in the same game. But South Fayette had two sets of brothers score touchdowns in the season opener against McGuffey.
Senior receiver Mike Fetchet caught a touchdown pass and junior running back Grant Fetchet scored on a run. Junior running back Zach Walker and sophomore running back Jared Walker also scored on runs.
It looks like Anthony Richards' high school football career might last all of one game.
Richards, a junior, did not play football the past two seasons at New Castle. He was on the golf team. But Richards, a starting guard on New Castle's WPIAL championship basketball team last season, decided to try football this year.
Due to some injuries, Richards became the Red Hurricanes starting quarterback for the season opener against Central Valley. Richards sustained broken ribs during the game, but continued to play. After the game, he was taken by ambulance to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh because he also had a punctured lung. Richards is done for the season, but is expected to be ready for basketball season.
• Bethel Park's 55-14 victory against Plum last Friday was certainly "special." Bethel Park's special teams scored four touchdowns. Avery Dibble twice returned punts for touchdowns, Bryan Rock returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and Chiante Pryor returned an interception for a touchdown.
• Tonight's McKeesport at Woodland Hills game is part of the Great American Rivalry Series, sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps. It is one of only 67 games in the country this season that will be part of the series. Besides the winning team getting a trophy, a student-athlete from each school will also get a college scholarship.
First Published September 7, 2012 12:00 am