For more than a decade, I’ve written that we need more nonleague football games between the very best public and private large schools.
This year, we’ve got a great one.
It’s a matchup between the top two ranked large schools, set for a neutral site on a Saturday night, with thousands expected to be on hand.
Hold on. Time out. I hear whistles. Yellow penalty flags have just flown all over this column.
Whoops. That great nonleague game is in Rochester.
This year, state private school power Aquinas will play Pittsford at St. John Fisher College on Oct. 5.
It’s exactly the type of game that is years overdue here in Western New York.
“We want to be the best in our area,” Pittsford coach Keith Molinich told me by phone Wednesday afternoon as his team was about to practice. “Our philosophy is that to be the best, you have to play the best. … We want to see how we stack up against the best competition.”
It is that simple.
Granted, part of Pittsford’s motivation to play Aquinas during the regular season is to get a preview of what it might see in the playoffs. Last year, Aquinas beat Pittsford, 15-14, in the Section V Class AA final and currently Aquinas is ranked first among Section V large schools while Pittsford is second.
Section V allows private schools to be members, despite the fundamental apples-and-oranges differences between publics and privates which Section VI has – correctly – cited in denying private schools membership.
However, Pittsford doesn’t have to play Aquinas in the regular season. But it sought out the game in the name of good competition on the field and a great event for the community.
“Aquinas has a great following, so for game like that, if you’re on the east side of town, almost everyone will come out to see it,” said Molinich, who has coached at Pittsford for 18 years, the last seven as head coach. “St. John Fisher is such a nice place for an evening game. We’ll probably get close to 5,000 people. For these kids, for this part of the country, that’s a lot of people watching a football game.”
While public and private schools routinely play nonleague contests in every other sport, football’s failure to do the same thing is unfortunately nothing new – here or throughout the state. Aquinas has routinely had just one local team on its schedule, fellow private school McQuaid, which is part of the reason we see them play Monsignor Martin Association teams so often (Aquinas hosts Canisius in a great matchup Friday night). I looked over almost the last decade of schedules for Long Island power St. Anthony’s – the team that St. Joe’s beat Saturday – and I couldn’t find one game against a downstate public school.
Molinich said that “some guys raised some eyebrows” when Pittsford scheduled the game. “But from our perspective, it’s not about who gets what kid,” he said. “We’ve shared youth programs for years – our youth program feeds Pittsford, and a ton of kids end up going to school at McQuaid.
“If families choose private education over a public education, and that’s a family decision, we support it – many of our kids go to McQuaid, some go to Aquinas, and that’s fine. And for the kids who want to be here to play football at Pittsford, we want to play the best competition we can get.”
At this point, I was ready to give the coach a flying chest-bump through the phone.
Locally, there has been steady, significant progress made in nonleague games over the last decade. This season’s great charge downfield happens Saturday night when St. Joe’s plays at Clarence, marking the first time in my 14 years on this beat that a suburban Erie County Class AA team will play a private school.
Last season, Lockport hosted St. Joe’s. Williamsville South will play at Bishop Timon-St. Jude this year after hosting the Tigers last season. Over the past decade, North Tonawanda, Jamestown and several small schools have paired up with privates.
All of those schools deserve credit for scheduling those games. However, some of you know what’s coming next, the sentence I’ve written many more times than I wished I had to:
As long as the best large schools from Section VI and the Monsignor Martin Association don’t play, Western New York high school football will never be as good as it could be.
Translation: Orchard Park and Sweet Home, it’s time to call a Pittsford play.
Yes, with your annual trips to Ralph Wilson Stadium, your two New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships each (both in the last five years) and your state final appearances last year, you are the teams that everyone wants to see play a private school. Consider it a compliment. Like Peter Parker says, with great power comes great responsibility.
The schedule for 2014 is still wide open. I’m told there remains strong support for a major high school football event that would have the backing of ADPRO Sports, hosted at Ralph Wilson Stadium or the University at Buffalo, which would include proceeds going to charity. This type of landmark, beneficial-to-everyone event was proposed five years ago, but it didn’t happen because the best Section VI large schools refused to participate.
Which brings us to our latest pitch, to make it perhaps more palatable for those two Section VI titans, both of which are not exactly buddies with No. 1 large school Canisius right now (tension between the coaching staffs led to OP and Canisius not scrimmaging this preseason after the programs raved about their meetings the four previous years; Sweet Home saw sophomore All-WNY first-teamer Brad Zaffram, in a decision prompted by his family, transfer to the Crusaders).
Canisius, which should have at least one major-college recruit on its team next year (junior TJ Wheatley got a scholarship offer from Pittsburgh on Tuesday to add to a list that includes Alabama and Florida), schedules an out-of-town power from the Northeast as a centerpiece game. Orchard Park plays St. Joe’s (as they did for years in the 1980s and ’90s). Sweet Home takes on St. Francis or Timon. Hopefully schools like Jamestown and Will South can get involved, too.
That way, in 2014 I can write what I did at the start of this column — without any penalty flags.
PrepTalkTV debuts tonight
The season’s first episode of PrepTalkTV is tonight at 7:30 at buffalonews.com; a live chat will follow. Our guests will be St. Joe’s football coach Dennis Gilbert and senior Nigel Davis, who had a terrific game against St. Anthony’s.
Different guest hosts will be joining me this season as well. First up is Buffalo State freshman Dave DeLuca, who reported on high school football last year as a senior at Springville.
Throughout this season, interested high school students (whether you are interested in the journalism field or not) have the opportunity to be part of PrepTalkTV. If you’d like to co-host PrepTalkTV with me, make a one-minute video online in which you “broadcast” your reasons for wanting to be part of the show. All we’re looking for is enthusiasm and the ability to speak into a camera.
Then share the video with me via Twitter at @KeithMcSheaBN or email the link to firstname.lastname@example.org. High school teachers are welcome to nominate students as well.