Monday, September 29, 2008

South Fayette middle school coach resigns

A South Fayette Middle School football coach resigned after it was learned he sent an inappropiate e-mail.

For more:

Read story here.

APB, Where are they now?

Last week, we were reminded McGuffey grad Garrett Hunter accepted an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and is part of the wrestling team. Thanks to everyone who provided updates.

This week, the Varsity Letters is issuing an All Points Bulletin for former Canon-McMillan multi-sport athlete Clay Simon.

Simon played football, wrestled and ran track during his days with the Big Macs. An exceptional athlete, Simon was the Washington County Coaches Track and Field Meet MVP as a senior and he accepted an appointment to the Air Force Academy. At the time, Simon said he had thoughts of attempting the decathlon.

Anyone knowing of Simon's whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

WPIAL football rankings

After Clairton's impressive 55-7 victory over Fort Cherry, there's a new No. 1 in the Class A rankings. Here's the rest of the Observer-Reporter WPIAL football rankings:

Class AAAA
1. Gateway 5-0
2. Central Catholic 4-1
3. Bethel Park 5-0
4. McKeesport 4-1
5. Shaler 5-0

Class AAA
1. Thomas Jefferson 4-1
2. Blackhawk 5-0
3. Highlands 5-0
4. Chartiers Valley 4-1
5. Montour 4-1

Class AA
1. Jeannette 5-0
2. Beaver Falls 5-0
3. Keystone Oaks 5-0
4. Greensburg C.C. 5-0
5. Beaver 5-0

Class A
1. Clairton 5-0
2. Rochester 5-0
3. Chartiers-Houston 5-0
4. Avonworth 5-0
5. Beth-Center 4-1

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friday night thoughts, Week 5

Normally, Friday night thoughts begins with an observation. This week starts with a question.

Who will coach Trinity during next Friday's game at Belle Vernon?

Head coach Ed Dalton was ejected during the first half of Friday's shutout loss to Chartiers Valley following his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. According to rule, anyone ejected from a game must sit out the following week.

* How good is Clairton?

Spoke with a writer who covered the game and he said Fort Cherry played pretty well considering the competition. Clairton won, 55-7.

Clairton is very good and the Bears will take over the top spot in the Observer-Reporter WPIAL Class A rankings.

** The Varsity Letters came away impressed with the overall effort of Beth-Center.

The Bulldogs, baring a major slip, put a stranglehold on the Tri-County South Conference with their 35-13 victory over Monessen.

Sophomore Jeff Tarley and Joshua Lockett, a transfer from T.C. Williams High School of Remember the Titans fame, combine for a dynamic, durable backfield.

Still, the straw that stirs Beth-Center's drink is senior quarterback Dom Moore, who follow the coaches' game plan to near perfection. Moore is one of the toughest players the Varsity Letters has seen this year.

*** Big wins for a couple big-name schools.

Canon-McMillan, which couldn't score at Butler, puts up 28 on stingy Upper St. Clair. Big, big win for the Big Macs and it rekindles conference championship possibilities.

Peters Township also scored with a 9-6 win over Baldwin. If the Indians can beat a winless Mt. Lebanon, they'll make the playoffs in their first year back in Quad-A.

Wash High might not make the playoffs but picking up its first win has to be a sigh of relief for the Prexies.

McGuffey should be able to finish fourth in the Interstate Conference after whipping South Allegheny.

**** Ringgold quarterback Shane Mountain threw for 340 yards in the Rams' comeback victory over Elizabeth Forward.

At 4-1, Ringgold looks more like a playoff team every week. If the Rams can beat Trinity, they could finish third in the Big Seven Conference.

***** Chartiers-Houston certainly made a statement by winning big at Frazier in a game the Varsity Letters figured to be much closer.

At 3-0, 5-0, C-H is off to its best start in years.

Up next? Clairton.

****** Finally, it's good to see Carmichaels senior Joby Lapkowicz return from a broken ankle suffered while sliding awkwardly into home plate during the Mikes win over Serra Catholic in the PIAA Class A baseball semifinals.

Lapkowicz is one of the better multi-sport athletes around and I'm sure Mikes fans were happy to see him throw for 281 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Jefferson-Morgan.

Friday, September 26, 2008

California's cinderella story

According to the coaches list released by California High School athletic director Phil Pergola, no girls tennis team exists at the school.

That hasn't stopped Sarah Shashura from accomplishing something spectacular.

Shashura, listed as a freshman on the Section 1-AA singles tournament pairings, easily won the section championship last weekend as the second seed. Still, she wasn't considered one of the favorites at this week's WPIAL girls tennis singles championships, which concluded Friday.

On Thursday, Shashura defeated top seed Kimmy Borza of Beaver, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 to advance to the championship match.

In the final, Shashura defeated Vincentian Academy's Elise Held, 7-6 (7-0), 6-4 to become the first WPIAl girls tennis champion in school history.

Shashura became only the third WPIAL girls tennis player from Washington County to win a WPIAL championship. Sisters Sarah Riske and Alison Riske of Peters Township accomplished the feat nearly a decade apart.

What to watch, Monessen at Beth-Center

First-place in the Tri-County South Conference is on the line tonight as Monessen travels to Beth-Center in one of the better games of the night.

The Bulldogs are new to the Tri-County but it did not take long before they established themselves as one of the elite teams in the conference. Beth-Center is very balanced offensively. Sophomore Jeff Tarley is off to a strong start, while classmate Joshua Lockett and freshman Deshan Brown provide big-play ability.

Then, add senior quarterback Dom Moore to the mix and it's a potent blend.

Moore is one of the more underrated players in Class A. He can run and throw, plus he's tough on defense. The guess here is his passing stats won't be much against Monessen's secondary, which boasts Division I prospect Sheldon Miller, one of the top juniors around.

The keys for the Bulldogs will be their ability to mix plays and run against Kevin Parker and Monessen's defensive line. I don't see B-C passing for more than 100 yards in this one.

As for Monessen, the talent needs to remain consistent in a tough environment. Beth-Center is a difficult place to play. Many good teams have traveled there and left losers.

Sophomore quarterback Terrance Stepoli could be key.

On paper, this looks like a close one. Great talent on both sides. And, as Monessen coach Andy Pacak told me Thursday, expect these two youthful teams to be a factor in Class A the next couple years.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Avella update

Before the 2008 season kicked off, the Observer-Reporter reported on the difficulties Avella football had with numbers. Eagles coach Frank Gray, in his first year, was forced to cancel the opening scrimmage because the team had only 11 healthy players.

Avella made it through the first four games and, not surprisingly, it is 0-4 overall and 0-2 in the Black Hills Conference.

The subject of Avella's numbers has come up when talking to several area coaches and the general consensus is the Eagles are a decent, scrappy football team considering the limitations.

Well, sadly, the troubles continue.

According to sources, Avella will take 13 players to its game Friday at Serra Catholic.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Fighting Fire Ants

Here's an odd story from the Associated Press:

RIALTO, Calif. (AP) — They’re a relentless force on the gridiron, with a stinging defense. But don’t expect anyone to cheer for the Rialto High School fire ants.
Discovered by a groundskeeper last week, the venomous red pests have set up several mound-like colonies on the football and baseball fields. The Southern California school canceled a freshman football game, moved practices and called the state Department of Agriculture.
“They’re from South America,” said Syeda Jafri, spokeswoman for the Rialto Unified School District. “How they got here, we have no idea.”
The school called in exterminators, and Jafri said the fields are expected to be clear of the unwanted guests by Friday, ready for next week’s football game.
The infestation is not to be taken lightly, said Les Greenberg, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside.
“A small percentage of the population is allergic to the venom, just as with bees or wasps,” Greenberg said. “This could range anywhere from a nuisance to a health threat.”

Games of the Week, Week 5

The Varsity Letters can't shake off the excitement. When's the last time this many quality games were packed into one Friday night? Two years? Three years?

Even with five games left, this weekend could ultimately decided two conference championships and two other second-place finishes. It's an incredibly important weekend for many local teams.

Let's get started with the top games.

1. Monessen at Beth-Center (5 stars)
In the Observer-Reporter's preseason football publication, I predicted Monessen to win the Tri-County South (I know, that's never a stretch) and Beth-Center to finish second. After the first four weeks, these teams not only look like the top two in the TCS, the Greyhounds and Bulldogs look pretty even.

In Sheldon Miller and Terrance Stepoli, Monessen boasts superior athleticism. Beth-Center, as always, wants to rough up opponents. Don't mistake that for a lack of talent. B-C has a large handful of strong skill position players and I've been hearing wonderful things about Jeff Tarley.

Against strong competition (Rochester and Clairton), Monessen failed to score a point. Beth-Center, the second-highest scoring team in Class A, is strong competition.

2. Fort Cherry at Clairton (4.5 stars)
Fort Cherry made believers out of many with its 17-point victory over Serra Catholic last week. Now, the state-ranked Rangers, face a Clairton team many believe is the best Class A team in the western half of Pennsylvania.

Containing Clairton's big plays, which begins with junior receiver Kevin Weatherspoon, could be key. Fort Cherry must also sustain a few more drives than it did against Serra. That means the big guys up front must block for Nate Crossey, Derric Stankus and David Phillips.

3. Chartiers Valley at Trinity (4 stars)
Last year, the Class AAA Big Seven contest, was supposed to be close. CV won handily.

In order to prevent a repeat of last year, Trinity must avoid turnovers. The Colts feasted on Trinity's pass game last year, returning an interception for a touchdown just before halftime that put the game away.

Critics were skeptical following Trinity's loss to Thomas Jefferson, but the Hillers rebounded nicely at Elizabeth Forward to hand the Warriors their first loss. Time to give Trinity some credit. Every time it loses a game, the Hillers come back focused and determined.

4. Upper St. Clair at Canon-McMillan (3.5 stars)
As far as conference openers go, this Great Southern matchup couldn't be any better.

Upper St. Clair lost in the final seconds last week to Pittsburgh Central Catholic, a team which Canon-McMillan lost to in Week 2.

Several key Big Macs are less than 100 percent but C-M always gives USC a supreme effort. Expect the same Friday night.

5. Elizabeth Forward at Ringgold (3 stars)
According to conference coaches, this Big Seven contest wasn't supposed too mean anything. Yet, both are 3-1.

This game is more important for the Rams, who are 0-1 in conference play after losing to Thomas Jefferson last week. According to some, the game was much closer than the final score. Ringgold certainly gave the Jaguars a tough opening 24 minutes.

6. Chartiers-Houston at Frazier (3 stars)
So far, the Bucs are doing what they are supposed to do - convincing beat teams they are superior to. Now, the schedule gets a little tougher.

At 3-1, Frazier is a solid team. At 4-0, Chartiers-Houston may be on the verge of a special season.

How special? Depends on Friday's result.

Monday, September 22, 2008

To readers

OK, let's get a few things straight:

1. This is a forum where complaints can be voiced, criticism can be heard and questions can be asked - within reason.

2. Readers started to complain about comments posted on blog discussions. Finally. I've been complaining about some of the contest posted by readers for months.

3. Those of you thinking it is funny to be offensive and crude, you are wrong.

4. Those of you who are too cowardly to use your name but brave enough to criticize well-respected people who devote countless hours to better the community, the time has come to start making complaints a little less personal or leave.

5. The time has come to bring the blog back to reasonable, honest, thoughtful and intelligent discussion.

The following is part of a post I wrote about 10 minutes ago:

This used to be an area for intelligent conversation.

I hope this continues to be an area for people to voice an opinion but there are a select few (and coaches know who they are) continually steering off topic, making things far too personal or just being outright offensive.

Recently, I was asked why I have taken to deleting so many comments. Well, just read what people are posting. It's ridiculous.

This blog is not my full-time job. Thus, I do not have the time to continually delete the posts of the growing number of idiots.

The only alternative is having all posts moderated by me before they hit this site. I hope we don't get there, but we are getting very, very close.

What should we do readers?

Town of Champions, Part VII

After an absence due to hectic schedules, the Varsity Letters returns with another installment of Town of Champions, a quick look at a local community within our tradition-rich sports region.

With the dedication of Jim Garry Stadium on Friday, and the Rangers football team sporting a 4-0 record, it seemed appropriate to look at the communities making up

Fort Cherry

Fort Cherry is known for producing great football players and NFL coaches. None proved as successful as Marty Schottenheimer (pictured), who nearly led the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl.

Current Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis is a proud FC alum.

On Nov. 23, 2003 in San Diego, Schottenheimer's Chargers hosted Lewis' Bengals. It is believed to be the only time in NFL history where two opposing head coaches were from the same high school.

For the record, Cincinnati won, 34-27.

Both men, along with the Schottenheimer brothers, NFL receiver Perry Kemp and the WPIAL's all-time rushing leader Mike Vernillo were coached by the same man – Jim Garry.

For 43 years, 44 counting the year he coached at McDonald High School, Garry was head football coach at Fort Cherry. He won 265 games and led two teams (1997 and 2001) to appearances in the WPIAL Class A championship.

Fort Cherry has won some championships along the way as well.

Its 1961 boys basketball team, which Schottenheimer started on, won the WPIAL and PIAA Class AA championship. It was the first basketball team from Washington County to win a state title.

The 1986 baseball team claimed the WPIAL Class AA crown, while the wrestling team won WPIAL Class AA titles in 1985, 2000 and 2002.

In addition, old McDonald High School won back-to-back WPIAL Class C titles in 1951 and 52. The 1956 Midway football team, led by Dick Haley, won the WPIAL. Hickory High won the 1955 WPIAL boys cross country championship.

APB, Where are they now?

This week, the Varsity Letters is looking for former McGuffey High School multi-sport athlete Garrett Hunter.

One tough hombre, Hunter was a punishing running back/linebacker for the Highlanders only a few years ago. In addition, Hunter was a standout wrestler. His older brother Seth is one of the better basketball players in McGuffey history.

Anyone knowing of Hunter's whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

WPIAL football rankings

Say goodbye to Hopewell in Class AAA and Aliquippa in Class AA for now and hello to a few fresh faces in the Observer-Reporter's WPIAL football rankings.

Class AAAA
1. Gateway 4-0
2. Central Catholic 3-1
3. Bethel Park 4-0
4. McKeesport 3-1
5. Shaler 4-0

Class AAA
1. Thomas Jefferson 3-1
2. Blackhawk 4-0
3. Highlands 4-0
4. West Allegheny 4-0
5. Chartiers Valley 3-1

Class AA
1. Jeannette 4-0
2. Beaver Falls 4-0
3. Keystone Oaks 4-0
4. Greensburg C.C. 4-0
5. Beaver 4-0

Class A
1. Rochester 4-0
2. Clairton 4-0
3. Fort Cherry 4-0
4. Chartiers-Houston 4-0
5. Avonworth 4-0

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friday night thoughts, Week 4

Welcome to the Class A playoff party Beth-Center.

Even though I picked the Bulldogs to finish second to Monessen in the Tri-County South and to beat Jefferson-Morgan Friday night, can't say I expected a 48-0 whitewashing.

Word on the street is B-C is the most underrated team in Class A and Jeff Tarley is the classification's best runner that you have yet to hear about.

The Bulldogs lost their opener at Carlynton, a game they led 21-0 before everything that could go wrong, went wrong. They shrugged off that and blew out the last three opponents.

The Varsity Letters is looking forward to Beth-Center's home game against Monessen Friday night. The Greyhounds haven't scored a point against a good team this year.

And hats off to Beth-Center. Any time a four-place finish (like last year) is a down year for a football team, it's one heckuva football program.

* As many big plays as Fort Cherry made during its 41-24 win against Serra Catholic, the Rangers defense was the most impressive aspect of the victory.

Fort Cherry's secondary eliminated the big-play passes of quarterback T.J. Heatherington, the shiftiest runner I've seen this year, by far. The defensive line played superior football after halftime, which allowed outside linebackers Gary Keifer and Sam Guidi make big tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

* Congratulations to FC's Derric Stankus, who scored a career-high four touchdowns on the day his grandmother died.

Considering his performance and the Jim Garry Stadium dedication, did anyone else attending the game feel like higher forced were at work? I sure did.

* In my humble opinion, two conference championships will be determined this Friday when Fort Cherry travels to Clairton (Black Hills) and Monessen plays at Beth-Center (Tri-County South).

* What's going on with the Canon-McMillan offense? If memory serves correct, one touchdown in three games. Four turnovers against Butler is not a winning road formula.

* Big bounce-back win for Trinity. It re-established the Hillers as one of the top three teams in the Class AAA Big Seven.

Speaking of big games, Trinity plays a huge one Friday night against Chartiers Valley.

* Add McGuffey to the list of teams with an impressive bounce-back victory.

* Clairton plays Fort Cherry and Chartiers-Houston in consecutive weeks.

The Rangers and Bucs are playoff teams for certain. How well they play against Clairton could demonstrate how long each enjoys the postseason.

Clairton and Rochester are the big boys in Class A. Right now, Fort Cherry and Chartiers-Houston are Nos. 3 and 4.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What to watch, Serra Catholic at Fort Cherry

With all the hype surrounding the dedication of Jim Garry Stadium and all the returning alumni, it's easy to look past this game. It's going to be one of the key contests of the Black Hills Conference season.

Serra Catholic, the defending WPIAL Class A champs, lost by one to North Catholic in the opener. The Eagles bounced back with two blowout victories. True, the score against Burgettstown looked close but Serra nearly rushed for 400 yards.

Slowing the Eagles' ground game, led by quarterback T.J. Heatherington, will be key for Fort Cherry if the Rangers are to improve to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in conference.

By now, it's known Fort Cherry can score points with quarterback David Phillips, a strong group of backs led by Nate Crossey and big-play receiver Josh Snatchko. I expect the Rangers will put some points up in this contest.

How well they defend Serra with an inexperienced defensive line will determine the outcome.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Background checks

PIAA executive director Brad Cashman issued a five-page press release regarding its registered sports officials, background checks and protecting student athletes.

To read the press release

Click here.

Then download the file under latest news.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Games of the Week, Week 4

Last week's slate, full of promise on paper, primarily delivered a bunch of blowouts. Fort Cherry at Bentworth and Woodland Hills at Canon-McMillan proved competition and worth the price of the ticket - possibly even worth braving the torrential rains, like the ones drenching Hiller Field last Friday.

With the fourth weekend, conference games abound. Here's the best of the bunch:

1. (tie) Beth-Center at Jefferson-Morgan (4 stars)
These two neighbors meet annually. It's also a hotly contested game and now that both are in the Tri-County South Conference, a lot more is up for grabs. Beth-Center (2-1, 1-0) is fresh off a blowout and looks ready to contend. Jefferson-Morgan (3-0, 1-0) has found a way to remain competitive despite last year's large senior class. For those in the mood for atmosphere, if you have never attended a game at J-M's Parker Field, check it out.

Monessen is still the team to beat in the conference. This game could determine second place or a possible conference champion.

Serra Catholic at Fort Cherry (4 stars)
Fans of tradition will want to be at Fort Cherry as several alumni will be on hand to watch the dedication of Jim Garry Stadium. It's going to be a special night in the McDonald area.

Also, these are two of the better teams in Class A at this point. A Fort Cherry win legitimizes the Rangers as contenders.

2. Trinity at Elizabeth Forward (3 stars)
At 1-2 overall and 0-1 in conference, Trinity can not afford to fall further behind in the Class AAA Big Seven. The Hillers must find their power offense and grind it out against an undefeated Elizabeth Forward.

3. Ringgold at Thomas Jefferson (2 3/4 stars)
This Big Seven game between undefeated Ringgold and powerhouse Thomas Jefferson may provide a glimpse into the remaining five games for the Rams.

TJ is the prohibitive favorite but if Ringgold can makes things competitive ... well, let's wait and see. TJ looks absolutely dominant.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another top 10 list

An anonymous poster asked if I could name the top 10 multi-sport student-athletes from Washington-Greene counties that I've covered over the past 10 years. After some thought and research, I completed the list.

As said on a previous post, former Peters Township standout Jim Gallagher tops the list. A seventh-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in the 2007 draft, Gallagher is the second-best high school baseball player from the WPIAL I've watched. Former Pine-Richland star and Pirates first-round pick Neil Walker is the first. Gallagher is also one of the top high school quarterbacks from the area over the past decade and had opportunities to play the position at the DI level but opted to play baseball at Duke.

1. Jim Gallagher, Peters Township

From there ranking the athletes is too difficult and, does it really matter who is fifth or eighth?

With that, here are the remaining nine (in alphabetical order):

Lee Fritz, Waynesburg
Justin Gregula, Wash High
Bobby Hathaway, Carmichaels
Mike Hull, Canon-McMillan
Brianna Liebold, Chartiers-Houston
Dan Mozes, Wash High
Coleman Scott, Waynesburg
Andrew Sweat, Trinity
Travis Thomas, Wash High

APB, Where are they now?

A big thank you goes out to the readers, who have helped answer the last two All Points Bulletins for West Greene's Rodney Wilson and Canon-McMillan's Jared Freeman.

Let's try to make it three straight.

The Varsity Letters issues this week's All Points Bulletin for former Waynesburg High School standout Lee Fritz.

During his playing days at Waynesburg High (1998-2001), Fritz did it all. He quarterbacked the Raiders to the 1999 WPIAL Class AA championship, in addition an appearance in the 2000 title game. He also was a key player on a Waynesburg baseball team which reached the state championship game in 1999 and the WPIAL championship game in 2000.

Fritz originally went to WVU to play football but eventually landed on the baseball team. His junior year, Fritz led the Big East Conference in batting.

The Varsity Letters still believes Fritz is one of the top 10 multi-sport athletes of the past 10 years from the two-county area.

Anyone with information regarding Fritz is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

O-R football rankings

Lots of movement in Class A after North Catholic and Monaca lost.

2008 WPIAL football rankings
Class AAAA
Team Record
1. Gateway 3-0
2. Central Catholic 2-1
3. Bethel Park 3-0
4. McKeesport 2-1
5. Upper St. Clair 3-0
Class AAA
Team Record
1. Thomas Jefferson 2-1
2. Blackhawk 3-0
3. Highlands 3-0
4. West Allegheny 3-0
5. Hopewell 3-0
Class AA
Team Record
1. Jeannette 3-0
2. Beaver Falls 3-0
3. Keystone Oaks 3-0
4. Greensburg C.C. 3-0
5. Aliquippa 2-1
Class A
Team Record
1. Rochester 3-0
2. Clairton 3-0
3. Chartiers-Houston 3-0
4. Fort Cherry 3-0
5. Serra Catholic 2-1


In addition to teaching two of my journalism classes back in my college days, Bill Moushey of the Post-Gazette is one of the best investigative journalists – ever.

Here's his latest, it involves former PIAA officials, one with a Canonsburg connection:

Read story here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The A-11 offense

O-R Sports Editor Chris Dugan sent me this link. It's an interesting read, and you need to check out the video.

Let's hope this offense does not make it's way to the WPIAL any time soon.

Read story here.

Friday night thoughts, Week 3

Thanks to its 51-0 whitewashing of Southmoreland, Ringgold is 3-0 for the first time in a long time. The Varsity Letters was able to track game-by-game results for the Rams back to the 1997 season. So it's been at least since 1996 since Ringgold won its first three.

While the Rams haven't exactly defeated a murderers' row of opponents' - Peters Township, Albert Gallatin and Southmoreland, they've done what playoff-caliber teams do. Ringgold has beat teams it is supposed to beat, and done it in convincing fashion.

This week, Ringgold faces the toughest test any Class AAA team can face - it plays at Thomas Jefferson. Playing a competitive game against the Jaguars could go a long way.

* Speaking of Thomas Jefferson, the Jaguars never cease to amaze the Varsity Letters with their continued dominance.

* Trinity's body language after TJ jumped out to a 7-0 lead then secured its second fumble recovery was a tell-tale sign of how the remaining three quarters would unfold.

Trinity's players were clearly not interested. The Hillers have a lot of work to do heading into this Friday's game at undefeated Elizabeth Forward.

* Huge win for Canon-McMillan. Huge.

Shutting out Woodland Hills is exactly the type of victory C-M needs to establish itself as a contender. Granted it's a non-conference game, but holding a respected program such as Woodland Hills scoreless makes others notice.

Think of how Trinity's profile grew after beating Penn Hills in the playoffs a few years ago.

One thing the Big Macs do need is a little more offense and it's hard to believe that sentence was just typed considering the talent on that side of the football. They struggled at PCC and failed to score a touchdown against Woodland Hills. Shouldn't be much of a problem, but it is something to keep watching.

* Big night for the Great Southern Conference in general.

Canon-McMillan shut out Woodland Hills. Bethel Park beat North Hills and Upper St. Clair edged North Allegheny on a last-second play.

The Great Southern gained a huge measure of respect this weekend.

* Between Trinity and Wash High, the high school teams in the City of Washington were outscored 90-0 last night.

* Judging by the first three weeks, the Varsity Letters does not feel great about the postseason chances of most local teams.

In Class AAAA, Canon-McMillan will make the playoffs. Consider the Big Macs a sleeper team at this point. They are on the cusp, not quite there though.

In Class AAA, the same thing can be said about Trinity and Ringgold. Both fall in the sleeper category.

In Class AA, things are not looking great after McGuffey lost at home to East Allegheny.

In Class A, Fort Cherry and Chartiers-Houston look like legitimate challengers in the Black Hills Conference. Both are capable of long playoff runs. As for Beth-Center and Jefferson-Morgan in the Tri-County South, never count out those two hard-nosed teams.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What to watch, Thomas Jefferson at Trinity

Trinity's task, should the Hillers choose to accept, is finding some way, any way, of beating a Thomas Jefferson team that does not lose to teams within the WPIAL very often.

Entering this game, the Varsity Letters isn't kidding itself. A lot has to go right for Trinity to win, but crazy things can happen. Here's what to look for tonight at Hiller Stadium:

1. Trinity's defense must hold the Jaguars to under 200 yards rushing.
TJ senior Brian Baldridge is one of the better runners in the WPIAL. Containing him to a point will be the job of Trinity's defensive line and linebackers. They did a respectable job against Canon-McMillan in Week 1 despite the loss. They have to do a better job tonight.

2. Alex Frey and Joe Havrilak will be keys to the offense.
It's no secret - Trinity runs the football. Frey and Havrilak, however, are the Hillers' best playmaking pair of receivers they've had since Dalton arrived in 1999. If they can make a couple plays, Trinity can sustain some drives.

3. Turnovers.
Trinity must find a way to create at least two turnovers tonight.

4. Penalties.
No personal foul or third-down penalties. None.

With that, there are several good games on the slate this evening so the Varsity Letters encourages all to not worry about the weather and go support your local team. Have a good night.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Games of the Week, Week 3

A solid, bordering on very nice, schedule has the Varsity Letters anxious for the third Friday night of the high school football season.

1. South Fayette at Keystone Oaks (4 1/2 stars)
The Varsity Letters was more than a little surprised when South Fayette lost last week to a struggling Quaker Valley. In order to pull above the .500 mark in the Class AA Century Conference, the Lions must travel to Dormont Stadium and face a very strong and undefeated Keystone Oaks. The Varsity Letters believes the winner of this game wins the conference title.

2. Fort Cherry at Bentworth (4 stars)
Fort Cherry wants to be 3-0 heading into next Friday's stadium dedication. Bentworth also wants to be 3-0. On paper, the edge goes to the Rangers. Games aren't won on paper.

3. Thomas Jefferson at Trinity (3.5 stars)
The Varsity Letters is convinced the time will come when a Washington County team other than Peters Township proves ready to challenge Thomas Jefferson. Trinity looked like that team last year but ended up losing to the Jaguars by 21. The Hillers aren't as talented this year, but they look a little more physical. The only way to beat TJ is to be able to withstand their knockout punches.

Bonus games
East Allegheny at McGuffey (3.5 stars)
McGuffey can make a major statement with a win. The Varsity Letters is impressed with the Highlanders toughness.

Woodland Hills at Canon-McMillan (3 stars)

The thing the Varsity Letters does not like about Quad-A football is it takes a month to get to the games that count. This one doesn't count in the conference standings, but the Big Macs need a better offensive showing than they had last week.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

PT boys golf setting records

The 2008 boys golf season is shaping up nicely for Peters Township, which is hoping to win its first WPIAL team title since 2004.

Here's what happened Wednesday. Thanks to Indians head coach David Kuhn for providing the details.

The Peters Twp. boys golf team broke the school and course scoring record
for Rolling Hills Country Club today 9/10. The score of even-par 180
included a 5-under 31 (one off of the PTHS home course at RHCC record of
6-under 30 at set by Jimmy Ellis in 2003), an even par 36 by Steve Radke,
one-over par 37 by Geoffrey Locher, and 2-over par 38's by Corey Martinez,
and Hunter Stanchak.

Rolling Hills plays at 3,400 yards from the blue tees for PTHS home matches
with a slope of 137 and a par of 36.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Those wishing to catch the Thomas Jefferson at Trinity Class AAA Big Seven Conference contest live on PCN need other plans. The network will broadcast the Dunmore at West Scranton game.

On its schedule released before the start of the 2008 season, PCN had the TJ at Trinity game listed.

"I actually called them Monday and asked if they were coming. They told me no," Trinity football coach and athletic director Ed Dalton said.

Last year's game, which TJ won 35-14, was played on a Thursday and broadcast live on FSN Pittsburgh. It was also picked up by several FSN affiliates throughout the country.

PCN will air two local games - Carmichaels at Jefferson-Morgan (Sept. 26) and Beth-Center at California (Oct. 10) - on tape delay. Those games will be shown on tape delay, Sept. 27 and Oct. 11.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ringgold hunting for new baseball coach

For the second time since the end of the 2007 baseball season, Ringgold High School is looking for a baseball coach.
Dan O’Rourke, a former pitching ace for the Rams who went on to a successful career at Ohio University, resigned to take a teaching position within the Upper St. Clair school district.
O’Rourke served as head baseball coach in 2008. Ringgold finished with a 6-14 record and a 3-11 mark in Section 4-AAA.
“Coach Dan O’Rourke did a great job for us last year,” said Lloyd Price, Ringgold’s athletic director. “He is a hardworking coach and put his all into the program. Ringgold will miss his dedication and commitment not only to the baseball team but also the school district.”

Town of Champions, Part VI

Time for the sixth installment of the Varsity Letters' Town of Champions, which highlights the rich sports traditions of area communities.

Today, we look at the many communities that make up Ringgold High School.


The largest school in the mid-Mon Valley loves its football and the Ringgold area certainly has produced its share of legends.

None are bigger than Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana (pictured), who led Ringgold to the 1973 WPIAL Class AAA basketball championship. The area also produced legend Arnold Galiffa, who quarterbacked Donora to WPIAL football titles in 1944 and 1945. Galiffa is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. "Deacon" Dan Towler also played for those teams. The 1945 Donora team was inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame this past year and is considered to be one of the greatest teams in Western Pennsylvania history.

Donora also won the 1953 football championship, while Ringgold won WPIAL titles in 1982, 1987 and 1993. Former Rams standout Anthony Peterson is the last Washington County native to play in a NFL game.

In addition to Montana, Galiffa, Towler and Peterson, former NFL kicker Fred Cox – a Pitt standout – is part of the inaugural Ringgold Hall of Fame. Cox helped create Nerf football.

Baseball also owns a strong tradition in the area, with Donora producing Hall of Famer Stan Musial in addition to Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr.

Monongahela High won the first two WPIAL boys soccer titles in 1957 and 1958.

Until 2004, the 1995 Ringgold Rams were the only WPIAL boys basketball team to win a PIAA Class AAAA title. Ringgold also played in the 1990 title game, losing by two points to Glen Mills. The 1945 Donora team lost by two points to Allentown in the state final.

Ringgold won WPIAL basketball titles in 1973 and 1990, while Donora took the 1945 championship.

O-R Football Rankings, Week 2

Some significant movement in the Observer-Reporter football rankings this week. Say goodbye to Monessen in Class A, which has yet to score a point.

Class AAAA
1. Gateway 2-0
2. Woodland Hills 1-1
3. Central Catholic 1-1
4. Bethel Park 2-0
5. McKeesport 1-1

Class AAA
1. Thomas Jefferson 1-1
2. Blackhawk 2-0
3. Franklin Regional 2-0
4. Highlands 2-0
5. West Allegheny 2-0

Class AA
1. Jeannette 2-0
2. Beaver Falls 2-0
3. Aliquippa 2-0
4. Keystone Oaks 2-0
5. Greensburg Central Catholic 2-0

Class A
1. Rochester 2-0
2. Clairton 2-0
3. North Catholic 2-0
4. Monaca 2-0
5. Chartiers-Houston 2-0

APB, Where are they now?

Thanks to a couple readers, the Varsity Letters learned that former C-M running back Jared Freeman, who owns several school records, is a college graduate, working full-time and living in a wonderful community the VL has called home on two separate occasions.

This week, the Varsity Letters issues an All Points Bulletin for former West Greene star Rodney Wilson.

Hard to believe considering their recent woes, but West Greene was a Class A power in the early 1990s thanks to Wilson, an outstanding running back and linebacker. The Pioneers even made it to Three Rivers Stadium in 1993 for the Class A title game. Wilson led the way.

He finished his scholastic career as the WPIAL's all-time rusher and still ranks third on the list behind Fort Cherry's Mike Vernillo and Penn-Trafford's Matt Gavrish.

Wilson went on to Slippery Rock, where he was a Division II All-American linebacker.

Anyone knowing of Wilson's whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Pennsylvania: Always Under Construction

Sure Mike, here's some live blogging. As of 7:52 I'm still on the parkway outbound, reduced to one lane, because the Forbes Avenue exit is closed. As of 20 minutes ago, the CM-CC game had not begun, possibly because the officials are caught in the same traffic as me.

Shouldve taken me a half hour or so from my place to CMU. Instead I've been on the parkway alone for 2 hours.

More if I get to the game.

Friday night lights, Week 2

As the Varsity Letters ponders whether Kevin Jacobsen will blog live from tonight's Canon-McMillan at Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Friday night certainly left some impressions.

1. McGuffey will contend four one of four playoff spots in the Class AA Interstate Conference and the guess here is the Highlanders will place third, behind Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic.

McGuffey made its share of defensive plays but was unable to stop GCC, a much bigger and deeper squad, during the second half of Friday's 28-9 contest. Third place could come down to the winner of McGuffey vs. South Allegheny.

Yes, that's right. McGuffey vs. South Allegheny.

2. Trinity needed to get its offense going and did so against Greensburg-Salem.

Hillers coach Ed Dalton said his latest stable of runners reminded him of former Trinity standout Troy Garove. Last night, Dan Miller rushed for 136 yards and fullback Zach Waters added another 73.

The most encouraging sign for Trinity had to be the play of junior quarterback Andrew Stearatore, who struggled against Canon-McMillan in the opener. He threw for 130 yards on only five completions.

3. Peters Township picked up a nice win against Kiski Area.

The Indians weren't exactly outplayed during a season-opening loss at Ringgold. Picking up a win, even if it came against a Kiski team that should not factor into the playoff race, boosts the confidence of sophomore quarterback Austin Hancock.

4. Two weeks into the season and – with the exception of C-M who had not kicked off before this post – only Chartiers-Houston, Fort Cherry, Jefferson-Morgan and Ringgold sported 2-0 records among local teams.

5. There's a good chance Bentworth is 2-0 after it's Saturday game at Geibel, which kicked off at noon. Too bad nobody, and the Varsity Letters means nobody, knows what the score is, at 6 p.m.

Friday, September 5, 2008

What to watch - McGuffey at Greensburg Central Catholic

Tonight, the Varsity Letters heads to Greensburg for the Week 2 Interstate Conference clash between McGuffey and Greensburg Central Catholic. A year ago, the Highlanders beat the Centurions, 27-20, in Week 7.

In order to win this year, McGuffey must continue to dominate defensive the way it did in the opener against Mt. Pleasant. GCC owns a much more potent offense than the Vikings, so it's unlikely McGuffey will only allow five first downs tonight. But allowing anywhere between 14-20 points gives McG a chance to win.

Senior quarterback Matt Czulewicz must manage the game. McGuffey isn't going to throw much unless needed. Czulewicz must help keep turnovers and penalties to a minimum and let the offensive line do the work.

Also, McGuffey's special teams played outstanding in the opener. Field position will be critical.

So will withstanding the first quarter. GCC will be smarting over last year's defeat and looking to extract revenge. Staying close early should help the Highlanders.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Interstate closing

Considering the past few years, the Interstate Conference standings look a little different following the opening week of high school football.

Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic, each 1-0, are no surprise. The Jayhawks are the Observer-Reporter's No. 1 Class AA team, while GCC is ranked No. 5. Each figure to factor into the WPIAL playoff picture.

Three teams - McGuffey, South Allegheny and Waynesburg - are also 1-0. Each won its opening game convincingly. The Highlanders crushed Mt. Pleasant, 28-0. South Allegheny east past Brownsville, while Waynesburg beat Wash High 20-6.

The trio combined for six wins (four by McGuffey) and were outscored 316-745 a year ago.

It's early, but each has reason for optimism.

McGuffey has made significant strides each year for head coach Derek Bochna and has teetered on the verge of the playoffs the last several seasons in the WPIAL's most difficult Class AA conference. South Allegheny has been infused with a new head coach, Pat Monroe, who won a lot of football game at Duquesne High School. Waynesburg, formerly an annual playoff team, had nowhere to go put up after last year.

"If you look at the teams in this conference that have been struggling, I mean, Waynesburg is a good football program. They won the WPIAL not too long ago. That's not a team that can be phased out," McGuffey coach Derek Bochna said. "Brownsville won't be down forever. They were playing for WPIAL championships a few years ago. It's just tough to sustain everything in this conference."

Could the gap between Jeannette, Greensburg Central Catholic and the rest of the conference be closing? It's possible. At least conference coaches no longer have to contend with Terrelle Pryor.

"Over the course of time, this conference will get closer whether anybody believes that or not," Waynesburg coach Scott Orndoff said. "Sometimes, the public schools get stuck in a rebuilding phase."

Realignment pros and cons

Talked to a number of different coaches in several sports concerning the most recent WPIAL realignment, which runs from 2008-09 to 2009-10. There was a wide range of opinions, though more favored to the negative.

One in favor of the realignment was Peters Township football coach Nick Milchovich.

Peters Township moved up to Class AAAA this year and became a natural fit for the Great Southern Conference. It gives the Indians several natural rivalries, such as PT vs. Canon-McMillan, PT vs. Upper St. Clair and PT vs. Bethel Park. McKeesport was moved out, which makes the conference weaker for the time being.

Still, the impact should be felt at the gate.

"When we made the move, I told the kids that this is where we're going to be and we'll be here for a long time," Milchovich said before the season kicked off. "From a geographic standpoint, it just makes sense."

Pat Vereb, coach of the successful Peters Township girls soccer team, wasn't as thrilled.

Peters Township previously competed in Section 5-AAA, which it dominated. The Indians were moved to Section 4, but it does not appear to be a stronger league and it eliminated section rivalries with Upper St. Clair and Canon-McMillan.

"We know we're adding a good Bethel Park team to the schedule but it didn't seem to make much sense," Vereb said.

Count Fort Cherry football coach Tim Garry and others in the Class A Black Hills Conference among the curious concerning the realignment.

Clairton was added to the Black Hills, while Beth-Center was logically shifted to the Tri-County South. Still, Clairton was added over teams such as Carlynton, which dropped down this year.

Garry and Vereb each wondered if the WPIAL consults maps when they make the conferences.

Hard to disagree with them.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Games of the Week, Week 2

The opening week of the high school football season saw its share of surprises:

® Waynesburg, winless a year ago, won at Wash High.
® McGuffey shut out Mt. Pleasant, which won a Class AAA conference in 2007.
® Monessen suffered from turnoveritis.

What will happen during the second weekend of high school football? We won't know until after the games are played. Here's the ones the Varsity Letters wants to see:

1. Canon-McMillan vs. Pittsburgh Central Catholic at Carnegie Mellon University (4 1/2 stars)
This Quad-A non-conference contest kicks off Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. PCC won PIAA and WPIAL titles a year ago but lost several top players to graduation. A few of this year's starters – including starting quarterback Nolan Krivijanski – are injured. This game is more important for C-M. Beating a tradition Quad-A power could establish the Big Macs as a championship contender.

2. Clairton at Monessen (4 stars)

Last week, Monessen was shut out at home by Rochester in a game many believe will be a WPIAL Class A championship preview. This week, it does not get any easier for the Greyhounds as Clairton comes to town. Monessen must cut down on turnovers to have a chance.

3. McGuffey at Greensburg Central Catholic (3 1/2 stars)
McGuffey rolled Mt. Pleasant, 28-0, to open its season. Greensburg Central Catholic easily won at Charleroi. As usual, the Centurions are loaded with talent. They were last year too but that did not stop the Highlanders from pulling the Class AA upset of the year. If McGuffey wins again, it won't be as much of a surprise.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Town of Champions, Part V

In the latest installment of Town of Champions, which takes a brief look at the rich local sports tradition of a local school/town, the Varsity Letters examines Waynesburg Central High School.


Wrestling and Waynesburg High School go hand-in-hand. The Raiders rank right behind legendary powerhouses Canon-McMillan and Trinity in terms of tradition and champions. The Raiders won WPIAL championships in 1977, 79, 80, 88 and 1989. A total of 30 state champions wrestled for the program.

Football also had its share of success, winning the 1999 WPIAL Class AA title. Lanfer Simpson and Lee Fritz, who went on the lead the Big East in batting while at West Virginia, were the standouts.

Waynesburg also won a WPIAL baseball title in 1999 and reached the state championship that year.

The softball team won the 2005 WPIAL Class AA championship.

A wide variety of standout athletes call Waynesburg home, none more heralded than Bill George.

While with the Chicago Bears, George is credited with inventing the position of standup linebacker. He is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Waynesburg also produced Josh Kosheck, a former NCAA wrestling champion and one of the more controversial stars in UFC. Jocelyn Lindsay is the first WPIAL and PIAA Class AA pole vault champion. Rachel Rohanna has won two of the last three PIAA golf championships and is in her senior year.

Monday, September 1, 2008

O-R football rankings

Here's the first installment of the Observer-Reporter's 2008 WPIAL fooball rankings:

Class AAAA
Team Record
1. Gateway 1-0
2. Woodland Hills 0-1
3. Central Catholic 0-1
4. Penn Hills 0-1
5. Bethel Park 1-0
Class AAA
Team Record
1. Thomas Jefferson 0-1
2. Montour 1-0
3. Blackhawk 1-0
4. Franklin Regional 1-0
5. West Allegheny 1-0
Class AA
Team Record
1. Jeannette 1-0
2. Beaver Falls 1-0
3. Aliquippa 1-0
4. Keystone Oaks 1-0
5. Greensburg C.C. 1-0
Class A
Team Record
1. Rochester 1-0
2. Clairton 1-0
3. North Catholic 1-0
4. Monaca 1-0
5. Monessen 0-1

APB, Where are they now?

The Varsity Letters believes, with all the Canonsburg readers, this week's All Points Bulletin will be answered.

We're looking for former Canon-McMillan record-setting running back Jarred Freeman. In the 2001 season, Freeman rushed for a school-record 276 yards against McGuffey, while averaging a school-record 18.4 yards per carry and rushing for a school record four touchdowns.

Freeman was the feature back in former coach Dan Pallante's wing-T offense. The Varsity Letters has not heard Freeman's name since his senior year.

Anyone knowing Freeman's whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.