In the late 2000s, I was part of the coaching staff at Shady Side Academy. In my the first season with the program, we competed in the lowest classification (of three Classifications) of boys soccer at that time.
While there were still very good teams in that classification (Seton LaSalle and Sewickley Academy had very strong teams in those years as they were winning WPIAL and PIAA titles), the rest of the landscape didn’t provide much worthy competition throughout the season, especially in our section games, which we had to face each team twice. There were many games and opponents we would face and defeat by double-digit, lopsided margins.
When time came for the next PIAA reclassification cycle following the Fall 2009 season, Shady Side’s Athletic Director Gene Deal along with the blessing of the soccer coaching staff, made the decision to move the boys soccer team up in classification to Class 2A. This would put Shady Side in the same section as Mars, Hampton, Knoch and other bigger schools in terms of enrollment.
What this provided for the program was a more challenging schedule, as we were put in the same section with two schools (Hampton and Mars) which were winning Class 2A WPIAL and PIAA championships. In facing this schedule, we faced a more competitive slate thoughout the season and in our section. On one hand, we challenged both Hampton and Mars in very close, competitive matches, but came up short. In fact, that first season playing up into Class 2A, we actually came up short of reaching the playoffs, losing a couple of road matches against other teams in our section, which provided a little dose of reality for everyone involved with the program.
However, if we had to do it all over again, we would have made the same decision.
The competition was much better, and despite falling short that season — we had numerous young players get thrown into the fire, facing uneasy and difficult situations against some very good competition. This would help in their development and with the high standards of that boys soccer program, which has a tradition that goes back nearly a century.
In the years that followed, Shady Side boys soccer never went back down to the lowest classification. Even later (after I was no longer coaching), the school would capture back-to-back WPIAL boys soccer titles in Class 2A. If we made the decision to stay in Class 1A back at that time, I am not sure that the program and standards of success would have been the same in the years that followed.
This brings me to the present.
Once again, we’ve reached another transition year for high schools in Pennsylvania, as the newest Classification Reports were released this week.
Following this week’s release of the PIAA’s reports for all sports, including boys and girls soccer, it was refreshing to learn later on Friday that some WPIAL schools have opted to voluntarily re-classifiy their respective soccer programs.
On Friday, Pittsburgh Soccer Now published the Classification Reports along with our initial projections and breakdowns for both WPIAL Boys Soccer and WPIAL GIrls Soccer for 2022-23/2023-24 competition cycle. Even as this published, there were still some things being sorted out and the WPIAL still has to finalize what the sections will look like in each classification.
There were some rumblings about some of the schools that could be opting to move up in classification, but later on Friday, Pittsburgh Sports Now published the list of all schools’ which would be making voluntary moves.
Among the schools which will have its soccer program voluntarily move up, despite initial Classification Report designating the schools into a lower classification include the following:
- Jeannette — boys (2A)
- Peters Township —boys (4A)
- Shady Side — girls (2A)
- Upper St. Clair —girls (4A)
PSN’s projections for each classification in boys and girls soccer will need to be updated (I am working on that!), but this can only be a good thing.
Looking at these programs, Peters Township boys soccer, with head coach Bobby Dyer leading the way, has a long-storied tradition winning WPIAL and PIAA titles. They are coming off back-to-back Section 2 titles and WPIAL runner-up finishes to Seneca Valley.
Moving down to Class 3A competition would not have helped with keeping that storied boys soccer program tradition at a high level and maintain its ongoing rivalries with the likes of Canon-McMillan, Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon and the other teams in Section 2.
The same applies to Upper St. Clair girls soccer. That’s another program with a long-storied history of success in the highest classification. While they were designated to drop down, they opted to stay in the same competitive section.
While this is all refreshing, it also makes me wonder, why are more consistently successful programs not opting to move up?
Interestingly, Moon girls, which only moved up to Class 4A during the last re-classification cycle, is moving back down to Class 3A, even after winning the WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2021. Sure, there will be some interesting and tough competition for the Tigers in Class 3A as Mars has won three straight WPIAL/PIAA crowns.
Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interests if both Mars and Moon girls moved up to Class 4A?
The other schools that have opted to ‘play up’ are Shady Side girls and Jeannette boys. The Shady Side girls could very well be in contention to win Class 1A championships in the WPIAL and PIAA, but they’ve been there and done that. They went more than a decade playing through Class 1A with only one other program (Greensburg Central Catholic) which they were on par with from a competitve standpoint. In Class 2A, they’ve gone through the first two years in the last cycle playing against a higher level of competition, only to fall short to the likes of North Catholic and Avonworth.
Jeannette boys are very interesting case, but again, they should be applauded for this move, especially for a school where soccer had been an afterthought and a awful program that often finished at the bottom of the standings.
Under the direction of a new coach, they’ve shown remarkable improvement and earned a respectable section record (5-5). In the 2021 season, the Jayhawks played only one game decided by one goal (a 3-2 win vs section rival Serra Catholic). Every other match was lopsided, one way or another. They had a few double-digit scoring wins, and yet on the flip side, perennial section champion Greensburg Central Catholic continued to beat them by decided margins.
What was interesting though, is when Jeannette played up against Class 2A competition, they fielded 12-0 and 5-2 wins against Derry and Yough, respectively. They did qualify for the playoffs, eventually losing 5-0 to eventual WPIAL/PIAA champion Winchester Thurston in the first round.
What does this say about the lower classifications?
There are some folks out there that want to see private schools moved away from the lowest tier, but from a soccer perspective, that’s a tough one to figure out because not all of the private schools are completely dominating the competition year in and year out.
What would be the best solution is having a competition formula that already exists in football and basketball. Why can’t the PIAA institute that in boys and girls soccer?
There are some significant discrepencies between the haves and have nots. Schools like Greensburg Central Catholic continue to stay in Class 1A, for the most part dominating the competition, while a school like Jeannette, are stuck between a rock and a hard place, winning uncompetitive matches by large margins against the many subpar teams ibut still unable to challenge the top two or three teams in the same classification.
In Jeannette’s case, it’s a noble move to want to go up to Class 2A. This way they get away from Greensburg Central Catholic, but also most likely find more competitive games on a regular basis.
They want a higher standard of play for its program and its student-athletes.
Isn’t that what we want for every high school team and for every soccer player in the WPIAL and PIAA?
I would hope so.