The rugged Black Hills Conference, widely considered one of the WPIAL’s toughest, might get a little less rugged.
And it’s bad news for a few area football teams.
Strapped with low numbers, Imani Christian was given until Aug. 19 to gather enough players to field a team, otherwise it must let the other members of the Class A Black Hills know that it won’t be able to play its nine-game schedule.
That would leave open weeks for Fort Cherry (Oct. 20), Chartiers-Houston (Sept. 20), California (Oct. 4) and Monessen (Oct. 12), in addition to Clairton, Brentwood, Carlynton, Bishop Canevin and Serra Catholic.
“It’s kind of a nightmare that it’s happened,” said Fort Cherry coach Jim Shiel.
He’s not kidding.
Fort Cherry is scheduled to play Imani Christian Oct. 18 – for homecoming. If Imani can’t honor its schedule, that would potentially push the Rangers’ homecoming back to Sept. 27 against Clairton, Shiel said.
Not only is that relatively early for homecoming, but Clairton has won four consecutive PIAA Class A titles and 63 straight games.
Some schools have explored options within Pittsburgh’s City League, as well as scouring schedules for opponents from West Virginia and Ohio who might happen to have an open week.
Others, such as Monessen, are content to live with the open week and use it as a rest period for the playoffs.
“We’re going to plan like we have a game that day, until someone tells us that we don’t,” said Greyhounds coach Andy Pacak. “Not going to West Virginia and Ohio at that point in the season – for us that’s the week before Chartiers-Houston – and having a week off (in Week 7) would not be the not the end of the world.
“If it was our first or second game, I might feel different.”
Pacak also might feel different if the scenario slashed his team’s number of home games from four to three, which could happen to Chartiers-Houston and California.
“These seniors would have senior rec, a homecoming night and another game, and that’s it,” Bucs coach Terry Fetsko said.
Even if teams are able to find an opponent from another state, that trip would require paying for busses and providing meals, among other ancillary costs.
With Geibel and Vincentian also struggling to draw players, the situation could be somewhat remedied if either of those two folds.
California has already engaged in preliminary discussions with Carmichaels, which plays Geibel the same week California plays Imani.
“If Geibel folds, we’re going to try and pick up that game with Carmichaels,” said first-year California head coach Bo Teets. “It’s a nicer commute. We’d have to work on who would be the home team since we’re both supposed to be at home that week, but I don’t want to lose a game. I don’t want us to have a bye week in the middle of the season.”
Imani Christian went 6-3 last season but couldn’t advance to the WPIAL Class A playoffs because it’s in the middle of a two-year probation period.
Many of the players from last year left to follow former coach Harvey Smith, who’s now at Renaissance Christian Academy, a non-WPIAL school.
Though it was no secret that Imani’s numbers were down, similar to the same battle many Class A teams fight, that doesn’t make having to scurry to find a date in mid-August any easier.
“It’s going to be really hard to find another game somewhere because all the other schools are scheduled,” Shiel said.
The simplest scenario – and the one many coaches are rooting for – involves Imani getting a strong turnout when camp starts Monday.
“It’s Class A football,” Teets said. “I have somewhere around 24 kids out this year, so it’s not like I have an over-abundance of players. If they could get enough players out and field a team, that would be the best thing.”