JOHNSTOWN – District 6 will address a football co-op proposal that would have Bishop Carroll Catholic’s players become part of the Bishop McCort Catholic program this academic year.
District 6 Committee Chairman William Marshall, the Penn Cambria School District superintendent, confirmed the item is on the district’s regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting.
“This is a little more complex because, with Bishop McCort being the home school for the football co-op, it’s going to change their classification,” Marshall said, noting the Crimson Crushers competed in Class 1A in football last season. “Because it changes their classification in mid-cycle, Bishop McCort had to agree they will not participate in the playoffs this season.”
Marshall said the district will consider the co-op plan on Wednesday.
“Our committee will approve that co-op with the stipulation that they will not be eligible for the playoffs in football this year,” he said. “Of course, we re-classify in October, so that may not be the case after this year.”
Marshall said the stipulation regarding the playoffs was brought forth by the PIAA earlier this year.
“That is something the PIAA Board of Directors discussed at length during our July meeting,” Marshall said. “In fact, Conemaugh Township did the same thing. Conemaugh Township entered into a co-op in District 5 (with Shade) and agreed they will not participate in the playoffs in football.”
Rumors had circulated throughout the area and on social media about the potential future of the Bishop Carroll Catholic football program and the possibility of the sport being discontinued at the Ebensburg school.
Bishop Carroll Catholic Head of School Stephen Cotchen, who also is a former athletic director at Bishop McCort Catholic, said the Huskies program explored co-op opportunities as numbers dwindled in football. The trend began years ago when the junior high program numbers dropped.
“We did not have enough interest to run a junior high football program for several years, leading to the low numbers we’re seeing now at the varsity level,” Cotchen said. “It’s an unfortunate outcome for our current players and their families. We did all we could to try to increase participation for the upcoming year, but couldn’t reach the level we needed.
“Fortunately, this year’s junior high program is strong and will compete this season, so we’re confident that varsity football will return in the near future.”
Safety and team identity
Bishop McCort Catholic Principal and head football coach Tom Smith said it is a bittersweet situation. A former standout player at McCort and St. Francis University, Smith is eager to help the Huskies players have an opportunity to compete, but he understands how disappointing it is to have a program idled for any length of time.
“We are excited to give the students at Bishop Carroll an opportunity to continue playing football within our Catholic system,” Smith said. “We will ensure that the identity of Bishop Carroll football lives on and is carried out through Bishop McCort football. They will be able to maintain the identity of their program in some way.
“We’re looking forward to combining our Catholic programs,” Smith added.
Cotchen said many factors were considered throughout the decision-making process.
“While we are committed to the revitalization of varsity football, I want to acknowledge how difficult this situation is for our interested players and their families who have looked forward to a new season competing for Bishop Carroll,” Cotchen said. “I want to assure them that we took careful consideration in creating an opportunity for them to play football this school year.
“I understand it may not be ideal, but we are doing all we can, in partnership with Bishop McCort, to make it the best possible experience.”
Smith said Bishop McCort Catholic had 27 players on the pre-camp roster and that Bishop Carroll Catholic had 17.
With the low turnout, Cotchen said Huskies players were more susceptible to both minor and serious injuries. The fewer bodies on the field, the greater need for two-way players.
“There are fewer substitutes. It’s a matter that extends beyond wins and losses,” he said.
“It really does boil down to safety. I can’t put on my conscience something that could cause somebody potential injury. Football is a contact sport.”
The co-op will impact the WestPAC, as that conference’s schools had planned to play Bishop Carroll this football season in order to fill a spot vacated when Shade formed a football co-op with Conemaugh Township earlier this year. Last season, two other WestPAC schools formed a co-op when Ferndale players joined the Conemaugh Valley program.
Last week, District 6 addressed a merger involving the Williamsburg and Juniata Valley football programs. Williamsburg will not field a team this season.
“I’d also like to express our appreciation and regret to the WestPAC athletic directors who graciously included Bishop Carroll in their football schedule this year,” Cotchen said. “I’m truly sorry we won’t be able to fulfill our games on their schedule.”
In a previous interview, Marshall had noted that the Aug. 4 date probably would be the last possible opportunity for any schools to have co-ops approved by District 6 in time for the PIAA Board of Directors to then vote on approving them later this month.
While neither District 6’s Marshall nor Vice Chairman Ralph Cecere, from Portage, foresee a problem during Wednesday’s meeting, both noted that such co-ops weren’t often approved in past years.
“Prior to this year, no co-ops would have been approved if it changed classifications in mid-cycle,” Marshall said.
“But because of all the issues that we’re seeing in a lot of our smaller schools, our board of directors decided we want to make sure that those schools – they’re waiting until the last minute to try to see if they can have enough to field a team – we wanted to make sure that those student-athletes have an opportunity to compete.”
Cecere backed Marshall’s assessment.
“Normally, co-ops mid-cycle historically have not been approved,” Cecere said. “But with the changing element of school districts, the (PIAA) board of directors in July came up with some wording. ‘We’ll approve these, but if you go up in classification you will not be eligible for playoffs.’ ”
The District 6 Committee approved co-ops in both boys and girls soccer that will have Bishop McCort student-athletes playing as part of the Bishop Carroll program this fall.
“In both boys and girls soccer, Bishop Carroll will be the home school and McCort will be playing under their name,” Marshall said. “We approved the boys in July. The girls were just added (Tuesday) in the PIAA portal.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.