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Making the most of a mess

March 3, 2008
The Altoona Mirror
The roads were atrocious on Friday, and, if you talk to a lot of people, so was the PIAA’s decision to go ahead and play its first-round basketball tournament games that night.

In the highest profile development, St. Joseph forfeited its Class A boys game to Bishop Guilfoyle rather than make the trip. That wasn’t the only scheduling adjustment to be made, though.

Central Cambria’s boys had to wait until 9:15 p.m. for Ambridge to arrive at Johnstown High School after getting stuck in traffic in Monroeville and turning around to take another route. The game tipped off at 9:15 and ended after 11.

It took Elk County Catholic five hours to get from St. Marys to Fox Chapel, forcing the game to start 80 minutes late. Greensburg Central Catholic’s bus ran into trouble going to Clarion for a 6 p.m. start — it finally played at 9:30.

The Everett girls reached Edinboro late for their 6 p.m. contest. According to Lady Warriors coach Keith Moyer, 20 minutes were put on the clock upon their arrival, and they were given 10 minutes to get dressed.

‘‘It was a nightmare,’’ Moyer said.

Hindsight is 20/20. It’s pretty obvious that most of the people involved in deciding to move forward with the games in spite of the weather conditions would have done it differently if they had it to do over. This column isn’t about to point fingers, but this is something that should — in fact, needs — to serve a learning experience.

So, what exactly went wrong?

According to District 6 basketball chairman T.J. Kakabar, the process is supposed to operate with game managers staying in touch directly with PIAA executive director Brad Cashman. But, having been at Central Cambria High School in the mid-afternoon on Friday as the St. Joseph situation was developing, it seemed pretty clear CC athletic director and game manager Ron Stempka didn’t feel the call was his to make. And how are game managers to be able to make an informed assessment of road conditions anywhere but at their own schools?

It also seems odd that every game manager in the western part of the state without exception would have come to the same conclusion that the games should be played. Districts 2 and 4 — the areas figuring to get hit last by the storm — postponed their games in the morning. Southeastern Pennsylvania was relatively unscathed.

Chairman Ray Wotkowski arrived with Kakabar and some other District 6 officials for the Central Cambria game at Johnstown and said he felt the respective teams should have left earlier. That didn’t help Everett, though, which departed at 10:30 a.m. and began to hit tough driving in Monroeville around noon.

Nor does that address another defense to playing the games — that the forecasts were not calling for snow and ice as severe and until later in the day. If no one knew the weather would turn bad earlier, the teams wouldn’t have known to leave early, anyway.

As an aside, anyone watching WTAJ or WJAC at noon already would have been aware that the projected amount of precipitation had doubled.

And, even if you can make it to a game doesn’t take into account whether or not you can get home. Ambridge spent the night in Somerset. Moyer and his team didn’t have any choice Ö Interstate 79 was closed by the end of their game.

‘‘I’d say we passed seven to nine accidents,’’ Moyer said.

There’s certainly no point endangering people’s lives. Given a choice, St. Joseph made the right decision. It shouldn’t have had to come to that, though.

The thing that seems clear is that the current system of making these decisions is inefficient and confusing. Maybe the district representatives need to be more involved as a step between the game managers and Cashman. Being in direct contact with the weather service probably wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

In any event, some good should be made of this. St. Joseph’s sacrifice should not be in vain.

Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or

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