Anyway, the following is a column I authored following the 2008 WPIAL basketball playoff pairings meeting. It focuses on the girls basketball teams at Washington and Monessen. I think there are some relevant points to current discussion.
CORAOPOLIS – It's become tradition. Make the WPIAL playoffs and make a T-shirt for team members. Printers from Aliquippa to Woodland Hills are preparing for the blitz.
Here's a couple suggestions for the girls basketball teams at Washington and Monessen:
"Washington, the 2007-08 WPIAL Class AA Girls Public School Champions" and "Monessen, home of the WPIAL Class A Girls Public School Champions."
Can't blame the Prexies and Greyhounds, the No. 2 seeds in their respective brackets, for wanting more. Washington and Monessen each share legitimate championship aspirations.
History, however, is not on their side, or the side of public schools attempting to win girls basketball championships in the two smallest classifications.
Since 1976, when the first girls WPIAL Class AA champion was crowned, public schools have won just 13 titles, and only two since 2000.
In Class A, the numbers are equally skewed. The first WPIAL Class A championship was contested in 1978. Public schools have won 12 times. Monessen, the only undefeated basketball team out of the 264 in the WPIAL, won titles in 1995, 2004 and 2006.
"I don't look at it as a public-private thing," Monessen coach Major Corley said Tuesday night. "We realize there are a lot of private schools playing in Class A."
Despite a 23-0 record, Monessen isn't the favorite to win a fourth WPIAL championship. That honor goes to powerhouse North Catholic, which won back-to-back WPIAL Class AAA titles in 2003 and 2004 before opting to play in Class A.
A year ago, North Catholic won its 14th WPIAL championship and it reached the PIAA Class A title game. This year, the Trojans own wins over Mt. Lebanon, Moon and Greensburg Central Catholic.
Of the four section winners in Class A girls, Monessen is the only public school. Despite the obvious advantages private schools have, the Greyhounds are a consistent championship contender and are in the postseason for the 19th time in Corley's 21 years.
"The key is, over the years, we've had good players," Corley said. "The girls have always practiced hard and played hard. They don't worry about who they're playing."
Washington takes the same approach.
Like Monessen, the Prexies are the only Class AA girls school to win an outright section championship. Four of the six sections were won by private schools.
"If you look at the state rankings, in the top five or six (in Class AA), we're the only public school. The rest are all private or Catholic schools," first-year coach Mike Maltony said. "We're used to seeing the same teams over and over. Usually, the teams in our section don't change that much. The private schools can bring in that one player and, from where we're at, it's such a disadvantage."
Washington, with an impressive 22-1 record, isn't the favorite in its bracket. If the Prexies win their first WPIAL championship since 1992, when they played in Class AAA, they'll likely have to defeat top-seed Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
OLSH, like North Catholic, would be a tough out in the Class AAAA tournament. The Chargers defeated Hopewell, McKeesport and Blackhawk convincingly.
Anyone else having a hard time calling North Catholic and OLSH small schools?
Though the fight isn't as difficult on the boys side, it's still a daunting task and one that South Fayette coach Rich Bonnaure knows well.
For years, the Lions competed in the same section with Washington and other local public schools. When they were moved to Section 3-AA, South Fayette competes against Seton-La Salle and Bishop Canevin.
"It's definitely tougher because, obviously, we're dealing with the hand we were dealt," said Bonnaure, who guided the Lions to the No. 7 seed and a potential quarterfinal matchup against Jeannette.
"It's also made us a better team. And, as a coach, I have to do my homework and try to keep up with who plays on those teams."
Some coaches, like Corley, don't mind competing against the private schools for titles.
Others believe the playing field needs leveled.
"I'm a proponent of splitting it up," Maltony said. "Why should some schools recruit players?"
It's a situation in need of tweaking but one that is unlikely to change.
There's no shame in being second best but there's great satisfaction in overcoming tremendous odds.
Maybe Washington and Monessen should hold off on those T-shirts.
I'd like to hear what your solutions would be. The one I believe most in is making private schools play up one classification.