Big issues facing area boards
With the Shamokin Area school board's official acceptance of Yaacov Yisrael's resignation as head football coach on Thursday, the board is going to have to move quickly - very quickly - on hiring a new coach. The official first day of practice is less than two months away, and optional summer workouts, seven-on-seven tournaments, lineman challenges and camps are in full swing.
The board has scheduled interviews with several candidates for Tuesday night, and reportedly will make a decision by Thursday.
The Yisrael situation has been the focus of a lot of attention but 10 miles up (or down, depending on your point of view) Route 61, there is an even bigger question facing the Mount Carmel Area board. Mount Carmel is one of several districts which have been invited to join the new Schuylkill League/Anthracite Football League, with play beginning in 2016. Pottsville, which has been competing in the Berks League for the past decade or so, along with former Schuylkill League member Blue Mountain, accepted the invitation back to the Schuylkill League in April, and Blue Mountain may follow suit.
Shamokin was also invited but turned the invitation down, opting to stay in the Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference.
When this talk began a couple of months ago, word was that Mount Carmel's various coaches were split in their opinions. Some were dead set against it, some for it, others willing to let things run their course. But now comes a story from our sister paper, The Citizen's Voice (see accompanying story), that Berwick is reportedly considering jumping from the Wyoming Valley Conference, where the Bulldogs have been for close to three decades, to the Schuylkill League. If that is true, the chances of the Red Tornadoes making the jump as well seem to have multiplied.
The biggest factor for all concerned is, of course, football. With six-time state AAA champion Berwick, five-time state AA champ Mount Carmel, two-time AAA runnerup Pottsville, as well as North Schuylkill, Tamaqua and growing districts Jim Thorpe and Blue Mountain in a big school division, the Schuylkill League would have immediate drawing power.
But there are other factors for the board to consider. For example, as much as some old school football fans might like to see Mount Carmel-Berwick and Mount Carmel-Pottsville games again, it's worth noting that those games might not be quite the attraction they were 40, or even 20, years ago.
As Steve Bennett's story notes, one reason Berwick is looking at the move is the Bulldogs' likelihood of dropping from AAA to AA in classification. Mount Carmel, while still competing in AA, is always close to the A enrollment figures. Pottsville and Blue Mountain, on the other hand, have legitimate AAA enrollments. Blue Mountain, in particular, may be looking at a jump to AAAA if its enrollment trends continue upward. In other words, playing those schools will be an uphill battle for a Mount Carmel.
Reportedly, Mount Carmel wants to remain in District Four, as opposed to District 11, where all of the schools in the Schuylkill League (save Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech) compete. From a football standpoint, that doesn't make much sense. The Red Tornadoes have found that winning a District Four AA title is tough enough. It's only going to be tougher, with Southern Columbia now AA. So why wouldn't you want to see some of those teams in the regular season?
Mount Carmel also insists on keeping its games with area rivals Shamokin and Southern, which makes further scheduling tricky.
Mount Carmel (and Berwick for that matter, which reportedly wants back in District Four, not 11) were dealt bad hands geographically years ago when the PIAA drew up district boundaries. The Red Tornadoes will always be the southernmost school in District Four or the northernmost school in District 11. Likewise, Berwick will always be either the southernmost school in District Two or the easternmost in District Four, where the Bulldogs used to compete.
While football is the money-making factor in these considerations, there are the other sports to think of.
A move to the Schuylkill League would likely benefit Mount Carmel's weaker programs, such as boys soccer and swimming, which have been overmatched in the Heartland, and even wrestling.
In recent years. the Red Tornadoes have had lots of success in girls soccer, girls basketball, cross country and track and field. The Red Tornadoes have won four straight District Four AA girls basketball titles, and a jump to the always strong Schuylkill League would be interesting.
As for girls soccer, cross country and track, the Heartland has become one of the top AA-AAA conferences in the state and the Red Tornadoes benefit by being in it. At the recent PIAA state track and field championships Heartland boys had 19 placewinners, including one state champ, and the girls had 13 placewinners, with two champions and a second. By comparison, Schuylkill League girls had four placewinners and the boys three placewinners (one second).
Mount Carmel Athletic Director Greg Sacavage, who helped spearhead formation of the Heartland Conference, says board members are playing their cards close to the vest. A vote will likely be taken at the board's next meeting, June 30, when next year's budget will also be voted on.
No matter what happens, both Shamokin and Mount Carmel boards have big decisions to make in the next couple of weeks.