Saturday, August 30, 2008

Friday night lights, Week 1

© Canon-McMillan is loaded at the skill positions but the Varsity Letters came away impressed with the Big Macs defense. C-M did not allow the big play, eliminated any threat of a Trinity passing game and stuffed the run.

Similar efforts will mean a big-time season.

© OK, so who had Waynesburg over Washington in their winners' pool?

The Raiders' 20-6 win at Wash High Stadium was the surprise of Week 1 but the "upset" wasn't a fluke. Any time a team rushes for more than 300 yards, that's a dominating performance.

Here's a point to ponder: Waynesburg scored 42 points last year.

© Word before the season said the Tri-County South was in for a down year. Jefferson-Morgan won convincingly but Monessen, Carmichaels and Mapletown were shutout. California, Beth-Center and West Greene also lost.

© Chartiers-Houston and Fort Cherry can contend in the Black Hills Conference and Class A if C-H learns how to win the big game and the Rangers get strong play from the offensive line.

© Trinity's Ken Wilkins is a stud and Peters Township's Jack Hareza hits people hard.

© The Varsity Letters will not be surprised if Canon-Mac's Chad Hagan and Wilkins are the top two recruits in the WPIAL next year.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What to watch - Trinity vs. Canon-Mac

Each week, we'll break down the Friday night game I'm attending. Tonight, I'm off to Canonsburg for the annual Trinity vs. Canon-McMillan contest.

Here's what I'm looking for:

We all know the immense talents of Mike Hull. The Varsity Letters is greatly looking forward to seeing Chad Hagan's return to the football team. If Hagan is as into playing football as he is basketball, he'll be one of the WPIAL's top five recruits next year - easy.

Trinity's defensive line has the chance to be a special group. Jack Jamerson is a very good player and Ken Wilkens has loads of potential. In the game, the Hillers' front four must find ways to stop C-M's run game and keep the pressure off a new group of starting linebackers. Trinity will not win if they don't make plays up front.

Canon-McMillan has displayed a propensity to give up the big play in recent years. That has to change of the Big Macs are to live up to preseason expectations.

Also, the Varsity Letters wants to see an aggressive C-M offensive line. There are a couple quality players up front for C-M. They can't afford to let Trinity to be the more physical team. The Big Macs have to be tougher along the offensive line than they were a year ago in order to contend for the conference championship.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Odd occurance

Todd Flynn has coached boys golf at Upper St. Clair for more than 15 years but he hadn't seen everything, at least until Thursday's Division I, Section 7 match against Peters Township at St. Clair Country Club.

These two annually contend for WPIAL team titles, so it's no surprise the match was close.

Close isn't the right word. After the top five scorers from each side was tallied, the match was tied, 185-185.

"In my 17 years, I don't recall that ever happening," Flynn said.

Upper St. Clair defeated Peters Township in sudden death, on the third playoff hole, after Marshall Brown knocked down a 40-foot chip. In high school golf, the first two playoff holes are contested between two members of each team (four golfers total). After that, it's sudden death.

What Flynn hadn't seen in years, happened twice Thursday.

Beth-Center won its Division II, Section 8 match at Carmichaels on the first playoff hole. The teams were tied 219-219.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Games of the Week, Week 1

The eyes of the WPIAL football community will closely follow Friday's Quad-A showdown between Penn Hills and Gateway, the nation's No. 3 team according to USA Today. Many believe these two are the WPIAL's premier teams.

Not everyone wants to drive to Monroeville, however. Fortunately for those of us attending games in the southwest corner of the state, Week 1 offers a few gems. Here's the top three:

1. Rochester at Monessen (5 stars)
Preseason rankings suggest these two tradition-rich Class A powers will meet again in the WPIAL Class A championship. Rochester brings back the majority of its team, while Monessen also returns a lot of talent. Many believe the Rams are the team to beat. Others, like Pennsylvania Football News which ranked Monessen No. 2 in the state, like the Greyhounds. Monessen needs a high-profile win.

2. Trinity at Canon-McMillan (3 1/2 stars)
No question, this game features the top talents in Washington County. Canon-Mac has Mike Hull and Chad Hagan. Trinity has Jack Jamerson and Ken Wilkens. Were this game later in the year, I'd like it a little more. Trinity has four first-year starters on the offensive line, as well as new starters at quarterback and tailback. Could take a few weeks for the Hillers to click.

3. Mt. Pleasant at McGuffey (3 stars)
Hard to believe, but this Week 1 contest could prove vital in determining on of four playoff berths in the rugged Class AA Interstate Conference. Mt. Pleasant was an annual Class AAA playoff team before dropping down this year. McGuffey continues to inch closer to postseason play. This could be the Highlanders year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What's up with this?

First, Avella football cancels its opening scrimmage at Laurel. Then contacts the WPIAL about canceling the 2008 season. Upon hearing it could mean not playing in 2009, Avella officials opt to continue.

Then comes the news of the Chartiers-Houston girls tennis team, which went 21-1 a year ago and produced the PIAA Class AA doubles champions in Karli Timko and Tanya Timko. With only five plays, C-H is forced to cancel its season and can only compete an independant schedule in 2009.

Granted, Avella and Chartiers-Houston are small schools. Numbers are often a problem in Class A, but teams canceling seasons or coming close before it starts is not common practice.

What gives?

At Avella, there have been three football coaches in four years. The Eagles haven't made the playoffs since 1976 - the longest such streak in the WPIAL. Apathy toward the program is a culprit for low numbers.

At Chartiers-Houston, the number of varsity teams likely creates some problems with numbers. Despite its size, Chartiers-Houston offers a number of sports for its students. Girls tennis canceled its season, while numbers have also posed problems for the softball and track teams in the past.

It's not just the small schools suffering from low numbers.

There are several football teams fielding anything from five-player senior classes to no sophomores to two seniors and one junior. Numbers are a widespread problem and it's affecting the majority of schools.

Some students are forced to take jobs. Others concentrate on studies, music or student government. Still, it seems students are no longer as interested in putting forth the effort and discipline it takes to play a sport successfully.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


For football teams in the Washington-Greene region, the 2007 season was a mixed bag.

Monessen reached the WPIAL Class A semifinals and Burgettstown won six more games than it did the previous year.

For every good, there was a couple bads.

Only one Washington County team (Fort Cherry) and one Greene County team (Jefferson-Morgan) played host in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. Trinity and Monessen were the only area teams to win in the postseason.

So what will 2008 hold? I expect a few teams to improve though I don't see a local team besides Monessen playing for a WPIAL championship, which hasn't happened since 2001.

To have a little preseason fun, the Varsity Letters decided to put together a little Over/Under. We'll look at each team's win total from 2007 and, with the information gathered heading into 2008, predict whether the team will win more, lose more or have the same record. (2008 predictions are based on regular season.)

Team 2007 2008
Avella 0 wins 0 wins
Bentworth 2 wins 4 wins
Beth-Center 5 wins 7 wins
Burgettstown 7 wins 3 wins
California 5 wins 5 wins
Canon-McMillan 4 wins 7 wins
Carmichaels 5 wins 3 wins
Charleroi 2 wins 3 wins
Chartiers-Houston 4 wins 6 wins
Fort Cherry 6 wins 7 wins
Jeff-Morgan 7 wins 6 wins
Mapletown 4 wins 4 wins
McGuffey 4 wins 5 wins
Monessen 11 wins 8 wins
Peters Township 3 wins 4 wins
Ringgold 4 wins 4 wins
South Fayette 7 wins 4 wins
Trinity 7 wins 6 wins
Washington 6 wins 6 wins
Waynesburg 0 wins 1 win
West Greene 3 wins 1 win

Friday, August 22, 2008

Town of Champions, Part IV

The Varsity Letters' latest installment of Town of Champions, which takes a lot at the rich athletic traditions of our local communities, looks back at another area where champions are expected and often won. So far, we've examined the histories at Washington, Monessen and Peters Township.

Today's Town of Champions nominee is:


The undisputed queens of Washington County softball, Chartiers-Houston has won an impressive seven WPIAL titles (1985, 87, 88, 99, 2005, 06, 07) and played in five PIAA championship games (1987, 99, 2000, 03, 05). Current coach Tricia Alderson led the Bucs to its past three WPIAL titles and once-dubbed "Queen of the No-Hitter" was the ace of the 1987 team. Recent graduate Jaci Timko hit 32 home runs during her varsity career, believed to be a WPIAL record.

The Bucs were a dominant football program during the 1960s and 1970s, winning WPIAL titles in 1968, 1971 and 1972.

In wrestling, C-H competed up in class until recent years and the Bucs won WPIAL Class AAA team titles in 1981 and 1982. The 82 team won the state championship as well. A total of nine individual state wrestling champions add to the tradition.

Brianna Liebold (pictured), the 2006 O-R Girls Athlete of the Year, won four PIAA track and field gold medals in the long and triples jumps in addition to a handful of WPIAL golds.

Last fall, girls tennis started its own tradition when Karli and Tanya Timko combined to win the PIAA Class AA doubles championship.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Town of Champions recap

Before the fourth installment of the Varsity Letters' Town of Champions, let's recap the first three entries.

1. Washington
The High has produced state champs in football, baseball, boys basketball and girls track. The hometown of Brian Davis. More than 600 wins in football. A 56-game win streak in basketball. Countless WPIAL championships and individual titles in wrestling and track.

2. Monessen
The birthplace of Coolio is the home of former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer. Winners of WPIAL titles in football, boys and girls basketball. PIAA champs in boys and girls basketball.

3. Peters Township
Produced MLB and MLS players. Baseball teams has won two straight WPIAL titles and played in two state title games. Boys soccer won its third state title and has five WPIAL titles. Girls lacrosse has won two WPIAL titles. Produced several state tennis champs, including girls team. Hockey team won three state titles in four-year span.

APB, Where are they now?

The Varsity Letters issues an All Points Bulletin for former Philip Henderson, a two-sport standout during his days at Chartiers-Houston High School.

Henderson did his best work as the Bucs' featured back during the mid-2000s. A few nagging injuries kept Henderson from joining the 4,000-yard club. He also was a PIAA-qualifying wrestler.

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Happy Birthday

The Varsity Letters wishes to extend birthday wishes to itself, as the main writer turns a healthy, happy 34 today. Going to celebrate by making my beautiful, pregnant wife drive me outside of Smithton to watch one of my favorite musicians. Plus, I've got the whole designated driver thing going for me, which is nice.

In the mood to listen to something other than all the stale hip-hop saturating the airwaves, check out:

In Varsity Letters news, the blog kicks into high gear Thursday. We'll be updating with the fourth installment of Town of Champions. So far, we've looked at Washington, Monessen and Peters Township. Also expect another All Points Bulletin.

I've been to football camps at Burgettstown, Fort Cherry, Trinity, Ringgold, South Fayette and Peters Township. I'll be offering some preseason analysis not available anywhere else.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"We're gonna play"

The 2008 Avella High School football season is on.

With only 11 healthy players, Avella canceled its scrimmage last Saturday at Laurel and speculation swirled that the entire season could be canceled.

I spoke with first year Eagles coach Frank Gray Sunday and he said he had heard nothing that could substantiate the claim.

On Monday, however, Avella officials met and discussed the possibility of canceling its season. A call was placed to WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley, who informed the school that canceling the season meant the Eagles would not be allowed to participate in the WPIAL in 2009 either.

Hearing that news prompted Avella to do what Gray and his players wanted all along – to continue the 2008 season as a member of the Class A Black Hills Conference.

"There was no way," Gray said Monday. "We're gonna play."

For the entire story, read Tuesday's Observer-Reporter.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Start date

The WPIAL fall sports season officially begins Monday when boys and girls golf teams tee off.

Locally, golf is building itself quite a tradition. The Burgettstown boys won four straight WPIAL titles, while former high school standouts John Popeck (Chartiers-Houston) and Robert Rohanna (Waynesburg) are excelling on the amateur circuit. Trinity grad Steve Wheatcroft spent the 2007 season on the PGA Tour.

Meanwhile, Waynesburg High senior Rachel Rohanna is the WPIAL's leading girls golfer and a two-time PIAA and WPIAl gold medalist.

The Varsity Letters wished good luck to all the teams and student-athletes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

APB, Where are they now?

As a fourth installation of Town of Champions is being prepared, the Varsity Letters wants to keep readers enthralled. What better way than to issue another All Points Bulletin for a former scholastic standout.

This week's APB is being issued for former Charleroi soccer standout Shellie Cotton.

Cotton scored goals by the handful as she led the Cougars to appearances in two straight PIAA Class AA championship matches. She also excelled at basketball and was named Observer-Reporter Female Athlete of the Year in 2001.

Cotton played soccer at West Liberty State.

Anyone with knowledge of Cotton's whereabouts is urged to contact the Varsity Letters.

Jankowski headed to Miami (Ohio)

Recent Peters Township graduate Jordan Jankowski will not sign with the Houston Astros and has decided to attend the University of Miami (Ohio) on a baseball scholarship.

I spoke with Jankowski Friday afternoon and he said the decision was a difficult one, but he wants to experience college and that a few years working on his defense as a catcher could benefit his draft status in three years.

For more, read Saturday's O-R

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Schartner to NJIT

The first Division I scholarship athlete from the Class of 2009 in Washington/Greene is Ringgold senior Emily Schartner.

Already a three-year starter on the girls basketball team, Schartner commited to New Jersey Institute of Technology, which is located in Newark and entering its third year of Division I competition.

Scharter, a 5-11 guard and two-time Observer-Reporter All-District first teamer, has scored 846 career points. She averaged 15.2 points, five rebounds and four assists as a junior.

She selected NJIT over Manhattan, Boston U and Cornell.

Egg on my face -- correction

Looks like I jumped the gun in my criticism of Channel 11.

Got home from work and, after taking the dog out for his night time walk, caught the tail end of the late night news of Channel 11. John Fedko reported from Pine-Richland football camp.

I love to admit when I'm right but I've got to admit I was wrong on this one.

And, as I stated in my previous post, Channel 11 does a better job of covering WPIAL football than its competitors.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rant time

As Ice Cube once rapped, during his days as the baddest man in Los Angeles and before his days starring in kids movies:

"With the seven, seven-eleven, seven-eleven
Seven even back do' Lil' Joe
I picked up the cash flow
Then we played bones, and I'm yellin domino
Plus nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A.
Today was a good day"

Got up this morning. Walked the dog, hung out with the wife, hung out with family and even snagged some free lunch. All before work. Yep, it was a good way.

Then, I got to work.

And my good friends on the night desk had on Channel 11 news.

To be honest, I don't pay much attention to news. Between sports, my love of music and the shows I watch on A&E and VH1, don't enjoy news broadcasts. News bores me.

But when I heard the subject of high school football brought up on Channel 11's 5 p.m. broadcast, my interest changed.

First I heard the words of Rich Walsh who told viewers that John Fedko has been out all day traveling to high schools for the first day of football practice. Then, they went to Fedko, who was at Shaler High School's practice field wearing what looked like a seven-layer winter jacket. He talked with Shaler players and new Titans coach Neil Gordon. In an odd twist, they only showed Fedko at Shaler, and I thought he had hit up a bunch of high schools today, not just one within minutes of Channel 11's office.

Listen, I'm glad local television stations afford some time to high school sports when warranted. And I know high schools go ga-ga when the Channel 11 helicopter flies over their stadium on Friday nights. In my opinion, they do more than other stations when it comes to Friday night. Still, don't fib and take your audience for suckers.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The preseason Fab Five

Practice for fall sports begins Monday. Athletes from cross country to girls volleyball begin official preparation for the 2008 season. Around these parts, despite the success of boys and girls golf, the sport dominating our thoughts is football.

With football in mind, here are five local teams the Varsity Letters expects strong, or at least interesting, seasons from in 2008:

The Big Macs always have speed at the skill positions. That hasn't exactly added up to a lot of wins in recent years. Last year, with a strong senior class and excellent skill players, C-M only won four games. Expect the win total to climb to the six or seven range this year as juniors Mike Hull and Chad Hagan take over. Hull may be the better football player but don't be surprised if Hagan, who did not play his sophomore season, ends up the better college prospect.

Fort Cherry

The Rangers started 1-3 a year ago but won their final five to finish second in the Class A Black Hills Conference. Clairton was added to the conference during realignment and, coupled with state runner-up Serra, gives the Black Hills two powerhouse. Don't be surprised if Fort Cherry, behind seniors David Phillips, Nate Crossey (pictured) and Josh Snatchko, duplicate its finish. The Rangers open with three road games. If they win all three, it could be another fine season.

The Greyhounds were 11-0 before running into Serra in the WPIAL Class A semis. This year figured to be a big year with juniors Sheldon Miller, possibly the best player in Class A, and David Jeffries along with sophomore Terrance Stepoli back and better. Word is a few defections could hurt Monessen's chances to challenge for a WPIAL title, but the Greyhounds are still the team to beat in the Tri-County South.


Hillers coach Ed Dalton said defending state champs Thomas Jefferson may be better this year. If so, that's bad news for the Hillers and Chartiers Valley, which are TJ's top contenders in the Class AAA Big Seven. Trinity must revamp its offense but seven starters, including Jack Jamerson, are back on defense. Add junior Ken Wilkens to the mix and Trinity's defense should improve.

Wash High

The Prexies can lay claim to a dubious distinction the past two years – best Class AA team not to make the WPIAL playoffs. This year, Class AA pared down to four conferences from five, which means the top four teams make the playoffs. That's significant. In previous years, only three teams from the five Class AA conferences qualified along with one wild card. With defending state champ Jeannette, Greensburg Central Catholic and Mt. Pleasant, the Interstate Conference will be rugged but Wash High should be quipped for a postseason berth.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Town of Champions, Part III

In the third installment of the Varsity Letters' Town of Champions series, we're looking at a community with an incredible amount of recent success and strong traditions in boys soccer and baseball. Plus, it's a popular place to live for former Pittsburgh professional athletes.

Peters Township

Peters Township High School is rife with success in boys soccer and baseball. Possibly no high school team in Washington County has done more the past 25 years than Peters Township boys soccer.

The Indians won four consecutive WPIAL Class AA titles from 1986-1989 and added its first Class AAA championship in 2003. Peters Township won state championships in 1988 and 1989. It added another state title in 2007, which saw the Indians finished with a No. 12 national ranking. In addition to all the team success, Peters Township has provided a pipeline to Division I programs, particularly Pitt. Former PT standout Justin Evans (pictured), currently with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, spent several years playing in MLS.

Baseball also produced professional talent. Chris Peters pitched for the Pirates, while Brian Simmons started in the outfield for the Chicago White Sox. Jimmy Gallagher is currently in the minor leagues and Jordan Jankowski is believed to the the WPIAL's all-time home run leader.

Under the guidance of veteran coach Joe Maize, Peters Township won back-to-back WPIAL Class AAAA titles in 2007 and 2008, plus it played in the 2004 and 2005 PIAA Class AAA title games.

The Peters Township girls tennis team won the 2006 PIAA Class AAA team title and has produced two individual state champions in sisters Sarah and Alison Riske. Alison Riske is considered the nation's No. 2 college tennis prospect according to the Last fall, the doubles team of Julie Stroyne and Emily Palko won a state title and, last spring, Doug Subosits and Andrew Nixon won the PIAA boys doubles championship.

With nationally recognized recruit Emily Correal, the girls basketball team played for its first WPIAL title in 2008.

Lastly, former PT wrestler and trackster Mike Friedman is part of the United States Cycling team representing our country at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Early kickoff

I was among the six media types in attendance for Thursday's Class AAA Big Seven Football Conference Media Day at lovely Cedarbrook Golf Club in Belle Vernon.

The event, organized by Ringgold athletic director Lloyd Price, qualified as a success in my opinion. It afforded the opportunity to speak with Trinity coach Ed Dalton and Ringgold coach Jeff Petrucci without having to place a phone call or make two trips. It also gave me an opportunity to acquaint myself with conference coaches outside the coverage area.

Possibly the most interesting happening at the media day occurred moments after the media was invited inside to join the coaches and athletic directors in attendance.

Brian Herman, sports editor at the Valley Independent and a man who has the lockdown on all things Mon Valley, challenged the Big Seven to start its varsity football games Friday nights at 7 p.m. instead of the normal starting time of 7:30 p.m.

At first, most balked at the idea but as Herman continued his argument, Price said it would be discussed at the next Big Seven meeting.

So what do you think of a 7 p.m. start?

From my point of view, it would be tremendous.

Not only would it help newspapers in terms of deadlines, it helps players get home at a better hour. Let's face it, the under two-hour high school game is in the past. Over the last two years, I have not covered one game which ended before 10 p.m.

There's pluses and minuses on both sides of the argument. Let's hear what you think.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

All The Right Moves

(Editor's note: The following post is from colleague and Post-Gazette sports writer Colin Dunlap. Enjoy.)

The esteemed Mr. Kovak,
As a devout reader and unabashed fan of The Varsity Letters, and a colleague who has shared press row with you on numerous occasions, I hope you can understand the level of which I both admire and gain inspiration from your work.
You are one of the best people out there covering high schools, and you are also one of the good guys.
In one instance, though, you are something else: an utter knucklehead who has no idea what he’s talking about. That instance would be down the right side of The Varsity Letters where you list the greatest sports movies, denoted sequentially Nos. 1-10.


If I were compiling a list, there is a good chance it would be not just on the list, but at the top of the list. Yes, I said it, the absolute best sports movie of all time and, my journalistic brother in arms, I will give you reasons why:
- Nickerson (Craig T. Nelson) is a masterful coach as he leads the Ampipe High School Bulldogs. Much better than a guy who looked just like him who coached the Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles.
- Defensive back Stefan Djordjevic (Tom Cruise) is a stud, but if you really watch the Ampipe defense, schematically linebacker Brian Riley (Chris Penn) is the man who makes them go. I mean, after all, he got offered a scholarship by Southern Cal.
- There are multiple references to Iron City Beer. And also plenty of Iron City Beer signage.
- Don Yannessa is in the movie as Walnut Heights’ coach.
- Salvucci (Paul Carafotes) is completely insane on Friday nights. All great high school football teams have a guy like that.
- Lea Thompson ... enough said.
- The fat booster, Bosco (James Baffico), is everything you want in a booster. The guy is loyal to the point where he is ready to throw punches if someone speaks ill of grand old Ampipe High.

Mr. Kovak, really, I could go on and on and on. I mean, this list as to why All the Right Moves is the best sports movie ever could be 142,474,184 bullet points long, but I will just leave it at seven.

So, let this correspondence from me to you be forever a reminder of how you let all of Western Pennsylvania down by failing to give this cinematic gem its props.

All the best,

Colin Dunlap
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

ESPN networks to broadcast 19 games

For immediate release

This season, ESPNU, ESPN and ESPN2, will combine to present 19 live high
school football games beginning Saturday, Aug. 23, with a
contest featuring Cathedral (Ind.) vs. defending state champion Carmel
(Ind.) at noon ET on ESPN.

Working in conjunction with Paragon Marketing
Group, the ESPN networks will televise 18 of the games as part of the
2008 ESPNU Old Spice High School Showcase. The Old Spice series of
games will include teams from 16 different states with two on ESPN,
three on ESPN2 and 13 games on ESPNU. will supplement
coverage with simulcasts of all ESPN and ESPN2 telecasts. ESPN Scouts
Inc. Recruiting Director Tom Luginbill will serve as the primary analyst
for all the game telecasts alongside play-by-play announcer Dave Ryan.

To supplement game coverage, ESPNU Recruiting Insider, a 30-minute show
on ESPNU that evaluates the top high school football recruits and
programs throughout the season, will be aired on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.

Complementing the 2008 schedule, ESPN RISE unveiled its first national
team rankings for high school football - the ESPN RISE FAB 50. The ESPN
RISE FAB 50 is a combination of three national high school rankings
(Student Sports FAB 50, RISE Magazine Top 25 and the ESPN Elite 25) that
going forward will be represented as one national high school ranking.
Beginning on Labor Day, Sept. 1, the FAB 50 will be
published every Monday throughout the regular season, accompanied by
stats and analysis on each team.

The top 10 schools in the FAB 50's preseason rankings include: No. 1
Trinity HS (Euless, Texas), No. 2 Lowndes HS (Valdosta, Ga.), No. 3 De
La Salle HS (Concord, Calif.), No. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Ft.
Lauderdale, Fla.), No. 5 Jenks HS (Jenks, Okla.), No. 6 Don Bosco Prep
(Ramsey, N.J.), No. 7 Gateway HS (Monroeville, Pa.), No. 8 Deerfield
Beach HS (Deerfield Beach, Fla.), No. 9 St. Xavier HS (Cincinnati, Ohio)
and No. 10 Byrnes HS (Duncan, S.C.). Nineteen of the schools playing on
the ESPN family of networks this season appear in the pre-season FAB 50

For a complete listing of the ESPN RISE FAB 50, please visit

To see the complete
listing of the ESPNU 150, please visit

The ESPNU 150 is a nationwide ranking of top prep football prospects.
The ranking pulls from scouting information and evaluations of nearly
2,200 prep prospects compiled by ESPN Scouts Inc. The ESPNU 150 and
year-long recruiting coverage is available at Recruiting Insider on
, which
provides in-depth national news and information about the athletes.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Town of Champions, Part II

Yesterday, we looked at the rich athletic tradition at Washington High School. Today, we look at Monessen High.

Monessen High School

Few communities can claim a heavyweight boxing champion. Monessen can in favorite son Michael Moorer, who defeated legend Evander Holyfield for the IBF and WBA belts on April 22, 1994 by majority decision. Moorer was also a light heavyweight champion during a career that saw him go 52-4-1 with 40 wins by knockout. Moorer occasionally appears at Monessen athletic events, particularly the Greyhounds' high-profile football games.

Monessen also earns bonus points for being the birthplace of Coolio (pictured), the hip-hop artist responsible for hits such as "Fantastic Voyage", "Gangsta's Paradise", and my personal favorite, "Smokin' Sticks".

When it comes to high school sports, few boast as rich a tradition or as rabid a following. From former football coach Jack Scarvel to current boys basketball coach Joe Salvino, those teams keep the trophy case filled outside the Greyhounds intimidating gymnasium.

Monessen's 2007 WPIAL Class A quarterfinal football win over Monaca was the program's 600th victory as it became the sixth school in WPIAL history to reach the milestone. Greats such as Jo Jo Heath, Julius Dawkins, Eric Crabtree, Andy Dzurinko and current Pitt nose tackle Ernest "Mick" Williams call Monessen home. Monessen won WPIAL titles in 1930 and 1961 and were runners-up in 1995. Many consider the 1921 team, which outscored its final seven opponents, 190-0 as its best.

The Greyhounds have won five WPIAL boys basketball titles, including back-to-back championships in 2001 and 2002, teams which were led by former Robert Morris standout A.J. Jackson. Monessen won consecutive PIAA Class A titles in 1988 and 89 and were state runners-up in 1923.

Girls basketball also boasts a rich tradition. Gina Naccarato and Charel Allen are the top two scorers in WPIAL history, both with over 3,000 points. Naccarato played at Duquesne and is an assistant for Major Corley's girls. Allen is playing in the WNBA with the Sacramento Monarchs. Monessen won WPIAl titles in 1995, 2004 and 2006 in addition to being runners-up in 2008. The Greyhounds won a state title in 2004.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Town of Champions, Part I

A recent series on the world-wide sports leader got the Varsity Letters thinking. With all the high school athletic tradition this area (Washington-Greene Counties and a few surrounding communities) boasts, which can carry the title of Town of Champions?

Throughout the next couple weeks, the Varsity Letters will showcase several of the area's more tradition-rich athletic programs and, eventually, readers will be asked to select one as its Town of Champions.

Our first installment honors one of the WPIAL's oldest athletic programs:

Washington High School

A legendary powerhouse, Washington High School's rich athletic history dates back to the early 20th century. Legendary coaches - including, more recently, Guy Montecalvo and Ron Faust - have called Wash High home. So have the likes of Brian Davis, Ted Vactor, Laila Brock, Dan Mozes, the Sandusky brothers and several NFL products.

Washington football has won six WPIAL titles, one state championship and, last year, became the fourth WPIAL team to reach 600 victories. The Prexies were state runners-up once and WPIAL runners-up six times.

Prexies boys basketball won three straight WPIAL titles from 1984-86. A 52-game win streak is included during that run. Washington has four WPIAL titles and two state championships in addition to the second-most section titles in WPIAL history.

Washington baseball produced three WPIAL titles and one state championship. Girls basketball has a WPIAL title. Girls track has won a state team championship, while both the boys and girls have fielded numerous state and WPIAL gold medalists. Wash High wrestling has produced 12 state champions.

Washington's Sammy Angott (pictured) is a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

APB, Where are they now?

Greetings readers. Time to bring back one of the Varsity Letters' more popular postings.

This summer's first All Points Bulletin is being issued for former Wash High football standout Vontey Johnson.

For those not in the know, Johnson was a running back and defensive end/linebacker for the Prexies, and a key component of Wash High's 2001 PIAA Class AA championship team. His defensive play in the state championship game, particularly for an undersized defensive lineman, was excellent. Johnson was also part of an excellent backfield that included current Cleveland Browns free agent Travis Thomas and J.R. Ward.

Johnson, a third-team all-stater in 2001, spent part of one season playing football at Waynesburg University but has not been heard from since.

Anyone knowing of Johnson's whereabouts is urged to post to the Varsity Letters.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Off topic

Pitt football media day takes place Monday, Aug. 4. Camps at West Virginia and Penn State are also close to starting.

As a college football junkie, I want to honor the baddest mutha to ever put on a NCAA uniform.

For the younger folk, the man pictured is Hugh Green. He played at Pitt from 1977-80. As a defensive end, Green made 441 tackles and had 53 sacks. Green finished second in the 1980 Heisman Trophy balloting – he should have won – and lists Green as the fifth best player in history.

Mic skills

Interviewing high school athletes can be a painful process. Teenagers can be shy, aloof, a master of the one-word answer or, at times, not in the mood to talk.

Heading into my 10th high school sports season at the Observer-Reporter, I've interviewed hundreds of local athletes. Most are friendly and happy to talk, unfortunately, not everyone has something to say.

There are those blessed with the gift of gab at a young age. The following are the 10 best scholastic student-athlete interviewees in my time at the O-R:

1. Perry Ivery. The former Fort Cherry football standout and 2001 O-R Offensive Player of the Year was consistently excellent. Plus, this quote still stands as the best I've ever received from a high school athlete: "We're going up to Beaver County and renaming that bridge the Fort Cherry-Rochester Bridge."

2. Lanfer Simpson. Not many athletes give good interviews after a heartbreakng defeat in the state playoffs. Simpson, a former Waynesburg star, did, even as tears rolled down his cheeks. Often funny and occasionally vulgar, Simpson was also quite articulate.

3. Andrew Sweat. The current Ohio State freshman, Sweat always took the time to talk, and I talked to him on countless occasions. Smart and insightful, Sweat wasn't afraid to discuss details on recruiting visits or the rigors of practice. Plus, Trinity's star linebacker did most of the talking.

4. Mike Sutton. Sutton was Wash High's top athlete way back in 1999-2000, my first full year with the O-R.

5. Dan Mozes. Another Wash High product, Mozes spoke his emotions and he spoke them very quickly.

6. Adam Penn. People may not remember this Canon-Mac track champion, but the standout long jumper oozed personality.

7. Mike Yancich. Sweat's teammate at Trinity, the current Penn State linebacker offered insightful comments.

8. Andrew DiDonato. The WPIAL's second all-time passing leader, DiDonato was humble, courteous and a good speaker.

9. Jocelyn Lindsay. The WPIAL's and PIAA's first female pole vault champion, Lindsay knew how to give a good quote during her days at Waynesburg.

10. Emily Correal. The Peters Township girls basketball standout recently granted an interview while receiving treatment. Plus, she's intelligent and friendly.

Generally speaking, coaches are much better interviews than players. Two coaches, however, stand out during the past 10 years and deserve mention.

John Menhart and Russ Moore.

Menhart is the former football coach at Carmichaels and one colorful interview. The same can be said for former Waynesburg and Ringgold football coach Moore, who never shied away from controversial statements.