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Scholastic Notebook
By Rich Emert
Valley News Dispatch

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association has an interesting problem to solve. It has to decide where it will play its football championships next year.

The PIAA had a two-year agreement with Hersheypark Stadium that expired after last weekend's finals. Prior to playing the championship games in Hershey, the PIAA had played its football championships at Altoona's Mansion Park Stadium for six years.

Altoona is sure to put a bid in to host the football championships in 2000 and 2001. Hershey officials are supposedly interested in having the football finals return. Neither site is ideal.

The setting in Hershey is what the PIAA is after. PIAA executive director Brad Cashman did a television interview during this year's championships and pointed out the PIAA likes the family atmosphere in Chocolate Town. There is plenty to do there, with a large outlet mall and Chocolate World, besides watch football.

The PIAA contends that if there something else in an area to attract people, the attendance at the football games will be better. For example, the wife could hit the outlet stores for some Christmas shopping while dad and the kids went to the game. The PIAA would also like to have more fans watch games both days instead of driving into town for one contest and leaving.

That's why Hershey is attractive to the PIAA, but Hersheypark Stadium has a grass field. It rained for the Class A and AAA finals last Friday and the stadium crew did a good job of keeping the field playable. The field was in good shape Saturday for the Class AA and AAAA games thanks to some sun and wind that dried out the turf. Still, the Class AA and Quad-A contests would have been played in a quagmire if a hard rain had continued overnight and through Saturday.

Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona has artificial turf, which means weather conditions do not affect the field. The problem with Altoona is there isn't anything in the town to attract those who are casually interested in the football finals.

Altoona's location is also a problem. While it is more centrally located than Hershey, Altoona is in the mountains and tends to get more snow. Just the threat of a snow storm would keep fans from driving there for the football championships.

There has been talk of alternating the PIAA football championships between the west and east, but that doesn't seem to be a viable solution. Three Rivers Stadium is the only venue in western Pennsylvania where the games could be played and still have that "big game" atmosphere. Larry Hanley, WPIAL executive director, does not think the PIAA would want to pay the cost to rent Three Rivers. Besides, after next year there will not be a Three Rivers Stadium and the Steelers new stadium will have a grass surface. There's the weather problem to deal with again.

Where would the games be played in the east? Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia has been suggested, but that doesn't make sense. The Philadelphia public and parochial schools are not members of the PIAA. Why go some place that doesn't have much of an interest in the games.

Altoona and Hershey are the best two locations, but neither is perfect. That's why the PIAA has a problem. It will accept bids to host the games until the end of January and make a decision in the spring.

The streak remains: The WPIAL still has not produced a PIAA Class AAA championships football team. Strath Haven saw to that last Friday when it defeated West Allegheny 21-7. The WPIAL is 0-7 in Class AAA finals.

Since the PIAA instituted football championships in 1988, WPIAL teams have won 12 titles. That's more than any other PIAA district, but the east has won 29 titles to the west's 19.

Interesting reading: There is an interesting article in the January 2000 issue of "Sport" magazine. In it, writers Mike Reiss and David Scott toured western Pennsylvania in search of the next great NFL quarterback.

They made stops in Beaver Falls, the home of Joe Namath, and talked to former Beaver Falls High coach Larry Bruno. They also interviewed Justin Sciarro, a sophomore who was Beaver Falls' starting quarterback and has been compared to Namath. The writers also made it to New Castle, stopped in to see Seneca Valley athletic director Terry Henry, who coached Jim Kelly at East Brady High, and talked to West Allegheny sophomore QB Tyler Palko and his family.

It's a good story and interesting reading.

It's been a long time: Fox Chapel defeated Penn Hills, 66-55, in boys Section 4-AAAA basketball action Tuesday. It was the first time in 22 meetings the Foxes were able to down the Indians.

The same night, New Castle and North Allegheny met in Section 3-AAAA. It was the first time they tangled since last season's WPIAL title game. The result was a 26-25 New Castle victory. North Allegheny has lost eight consecutive games to New Castle.