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The More Things Change, the More They Should Have Stayed the Same

It’s hard to believe that when Montoursville and Loyalsock kick it off this Friday night, we’ll be five weeks into the high school football regular season. I don’t know which one of these two things seem more out of bounds. That we’re halfway thru the PIAA High School football season and the calendar still reads September, or that the Warriors and Lancers are playing this early to see what color the bridge will be painted.

I will never buy into the current PIAA football-scheduling format. There’s absolutely no way two games should be played in the heat of August. The PIAA has eliminated one scrimmage from the high school footballers to accommodate the early start. Not that long ago, football practice began the second week of August. The two summer weeks of practice led up to two scrimmages to prepare your team for the regular season. The scrimmages are of the utmost importance at the high school level, not only to evaluate talent and prepare your team but most importantly, to acclimate young players to the speed and physicality of the game. This is especially important with the concussion issue of today limiting the amount of live tackling practice.

Simply put, there’s no better way to prepare football players for the contact of the game than by scrimmaging another team in a controlled environment. The elimination of the second scrimmage is not in the best safety interest of young football players. That is not even covering the issue that the teams only have full contact/physical exertion in one scrimmage prior to playing two games in the heat of August.

The early scheduling is most important to the PIAA for the accommodation of the district playoff and state championship games. They want to get the games played before the snow and cold weather, so they have the best opportunity for large crowds. Almost all teams’ seasons have ended, and the football equipment is put away before the district semi-final games. What would be best for the overwhelming majority of student-athletes, hardly ever lines up with what is best for the PIAA.

High school football is a fall sport. The focus should be on those playing and supporting the game. Almost all participating to bring you Friday Night Lights will leave this special time in their life behind when they graduate. This includes the band, the cheerleaders, and all from within the student body that support their school.

Youth sports at every level need to be about the kids. The life lessons learned, the friendships made, and the importance of being part of a team is how you measure success, not by a final score. The PIAA needs to do what’s right for all that are playing for the love of the game and each other, not just the few that are fortunate enough to play for a state title in December.

As far as the “Battle for the Bridge” between Loyalsock and Montoursville, of course, I’d love to see that as the last game of every season. However, most importantly, they play each other. There have been too many local rivalry games lost. This, again, due to the emphasis put on District playoffs, the necessity for teams to record wins, and again the lack of some good old common sense.

If I were responsible for scheduling, all the local teams would play each other like back in the day; we would revive the old West Branch Conference. There is no way school districts would be incurring the cost of teams, bands, and cheerleaders being bussed from one end of Penn’s Woods to the other. Isn’t that what district and state playoffs were intended to be about? Be the best in your backyard, win enough games, and move on to play the teams outside the West Branch Valley.

Most importantly, this isn’t just the football team being bussed — it’s all the teams in your local school district. We need to return to the playing of neighboring schools. There should never be a year that Loyalsock, Montoursville, South Williamsport, Jersey Shore, and Hughesville don’t play each other in every sport.

I must add the cost of transportation is obviously paid for by the taxpayer. This is a time when teaching positions, educational programs, and other extracurricular activities are being cut. If we all knew the true cost of transportation for local high school athletic teams of today, compared to when they were playing bordering and local schools, it would be shocking. I must give the Williamsport Area School District a pass on this. Their travel miles have probably decreased in recent years.

I know what some of you are thinking. There are big schools, and there are small schools, how can they all play each other? That’s an easy one. Like the old West Branch conference, you have two divisions, a big school, and a small school. If a school is having a peak or valley in their athletic programs, they can choose to play up or down, of course, this being approved by the members of the conference. There is always going to be peaks and valleys in high school athletics. Believe me; it would work just fine. The money saved on diesel fuel can be used to help balance the school’s budget.

The other side of this is from the student-athlete, parent, and fans’ perspective. There would be shorter bus rides and drives to watch ball games. The return times home to get to bed and up for school in the morning would be much better. That backyard rivalry spirit for all involved would be much greater. You would be competing against a neighboring school, and know the opponent. Maybe they’re friends, family, co-workers, or people you know through social media. Not to mention, many of our local athletes workout together, play travel ball together and would love to compete against each other. I think I’ll start a “skip the ride and pay for pride” campaign.

God Bless America.

Jim Webb

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