During this past weekend’s PIAA State basketball championships in Hershey, the talent-stocked Philadelphia basketball teams’ domination of the state basketball tournament continued to take its toll on the psyche of the rest of the state and the PIAA’S gate.
Philadelphia teams Archbishop Wood in 5A, Imhotep Charter in 4A and Neumann-Goretti in 3A all won state championships.
It was the first for Wood, the fifth since 2009 for Imhotep and the seventh in the past eight years for Neumann-Goretti.
The Saints have won four straight after routing Lincoln Park 89-58 in the 3A title game. Only Carlisle and Kennedy Catholic have won four straight as well.
The first year for the Public League in the PIAA state tournament was 2005; 2009 for the Catholic League. The two leagues form District 12.
Since 2006, District 12 teams have won 24 of 50 state championships. Each Philly league has 12 state titles.
District 12 teams have also lost 12 state finals over the same time.
The Catholic League champion has gone on to win a state championship in seven of the last eight seasons.
Neumann-Goretti has a state tournament record of 39-2 since 2009. Overall, the Catholic League has a 108-34 record in state tournament games since 2009.
The domination is such that teams from outside Philly—predominantly small-town teams-- have a very slim chance at winning a state championship in their respective classifications—4A Imhotep and 3A Goretti.
So the cacophony of concerns from the public schools outside of Philadelphia continues to swell up.
Now the PIAA, in response to its membership, has formed a competition committee to examine how to deal with the dominance of Philly schools.
The central beef is that non-public schools and charter schools don’t have geographic borders that effectively limits their talent pool. It’s not a level playing field for the outside-Philly small town teams.
These Philadelphia basketball powerhouses can round up basketball players from just about anywhere so they stack their rosters with blue chip talent.
But is this an issue that can be resolved by the PIAA trying to “regulate” it away?
In reality, it’s a small group of teams that have mastered putting these all-star caliber teams together.
First they identify the talent in the middle schools and AAU. Scope other talent that has developed elsewhere around the region. Then they grease the path for the young athletes to their institution.
“Everyone has been here since ninth grade,” said Imhotep Charter coach Andre Noble after the Panthers rolled Strong Vincent 80-52.
In addition to the rest of state, most Public League and Catholic League teams don’t stand a chance either against Imhotep, Constitution, Math, Civics and Science in the Pub and Neumann-Goretti, Archbishop Wood, Roman Catholic and Archbishop Carroll in the Catholic.
Neumann-Goretti and its coach Carl Arrigale and Imhotep Charter and Noble top the list.
Now Archbishop Wood and its coach John Mosco, a long-time understudy of Arrigale, has joined the club.
Roman and Carroll were eliminated in the early rounds of the state tournament this year but they’ll be back restocked, rest assured.
To a lesser extent among the small schools, Constitution and its coach Robert Moore and Math Civics and Science are also club members. Constitution has won three of the four state championship game it’s been to since 2012.
The Generals lost the state final over the weekend to Sewickley Academy, a private, prep school in Pittsburgh, 68-63 in overtime.
NG, Imhotep and Wood each had two Division 1 recruits, and more on the way. No other team in Hershey had more than one, if that.
Two or more Division 1 recruits just don’t live in the neighborhood.
The coaches of this small group of teams can take a simple action that would go a long way to address this issue.
Play up in classification. 6A works.
“I think I have,” Noble said. “We just haven’t done it. We play a tough non-league schedule. We played Reading.”
Aliquippa and Steel-High are two teams that come to mind about playing up in class. These two teams have always played up in class and have won state championships doing it. Beaver Falls and Farrell are two more who, in effect, challenge their athletes at an appropriate level of competition.
That’s not happening with Neumann-Goretti, Imhotep and company.
“Competition is always fun to play against,” said Villanova-bound Archbishop Wood guard Collin Gillespie. “Definitely the Catholic League is one of the best leagues in the country. Definitely it prepared us for this stage. Just tough teams night in and night out.”
Come on men. Do the right thing. Play the best possible competition that challenges your athletes.
This call out also includes Kennedy Catholic and Girard College the Class A state finalists.
KC defeated five of the teams who made it to Hershey during the regular season (Sewickley Academy, Constitution, Strong Vincent and Lincoln Park), two more in game-style scrimmages (Pine Richland and Meadville), according to Golden Eagles coach Rick Mancino.
Then KC defeated Girard, a District 1 team located in the City of Philadelphia, in the state final 73-56. With its championship, it tied Chester for the most-ever with eight.
Why in the world is KC playing Class A basketball?
Mancino and Girard’s first-year coach Clyde Jones both told one of the TV color analysts for the state championship game telecast that if they don’t make it to the state championship game, that’s “on them.”
Don’t put this on the PIAA. This one is on you fellows. Shame on you for not challenging your players in the state tournament, like you do during the regular season.
And one more thought on this…
In the 5A championship game, Meadville was run over by Archbishop Wood 73-40.
Overmatched and overwhelmed, still Meadville coach Mark McElhinny wasn’t about to go negative.
“I’m proud about how we do it,” he said. “Our guys came all the way up through since they were 10 and 12 years old.
“This is also motivation for us to compete against a team like this. We’ve got to get better. Instead of complaining we’ll work harder to try to compete.”
The WPIAL might do well to consider McElhinny’s attitude. WPIAL teams have only won five state championships in the largest classification—4A and now 6A—since 1978.
District 1 has the most over the past 40 years with 17 state championships. District 3 is second with eight.
“I don’t think Philadelphia gives us the respect that I think we deserve,” Pine Richland guard Andrew Petcash told Mike White of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the Rams lost to Reading 64-60 in the 6A final, “I think there are a lot of good teams around us, too.”
Not close enough though to be ready for the level of competition offered up by the big schools in eastern PA.
It will do the WPIAL well to get on a bus and play non-league games in Harrisburg and Philadelphia.
Respect comes from wins.
State Championship game attendance…
While the Reading fans made the total attendance respectable for 12 championship games played over three days, the Public and Catholic league teams just don’t have a fan following, despite a relatively easy trip up the PA Turnpike to Hershey.
The Reading-Pine Richland 6A final drew a Giant Center record crowd for a high school basketball game of 9,531. The total for the entire 12 games was 26,061.
According to the official score sheets provided by the PIAA, Lincoln Park-Neumann-Goretti had 1,239, Sewickley Academy-Constitution had 1,692, Archbishop Wood-Meadville 2,711 and Imhotep-Strong Vincent 1,500.
There may have been 50 fans in the seats rooting for Imhotep.
By comparison, the WPIAL championship games attendance at Pitt’s Peterson Center was 17,200. The District 3 championship games attendance at Giant Center was 14,216. The District 2 championship games attendance at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre was 11,406.