Some readers might remember a movie from a few decades back named "Highlander" and its catch phrase, "There can be only one."
That was fantasy, but what is playing out this season and the foreseeable future for District 6 Class AAAA girls basketball is very real.
Although there are four teams that have the realistic ability to win interdistrict playoff games - three might have the ability to go multiple rounds - just the champion will represent 6-AAAA in this year's (and next year's) PIAA tournament instead of two as in past years. The extra berth in the state playoffs was a victim of economics and district size.
Heading into this week and despite playing some of the toughest competition Pennsylvania has to offer, Hollidaysburg, Altoona, State College and Mifflin County are a combined 49-24. However, that won't amount to much once the playoffs begin, because none of those teams can afford one slip, one off night, or they'll be gone.
Hollidaysburg is 17-1 with two wins over Altoona and another against State College but could find itself on the outside looking in. Altoona's three probable Division I players might need a ticket to get into the playoff games.
"I can't even remember the last time where you had four strong teams, the caliber of teams between Hollidaysburg, Altoona, State College and Mifflin County. So it's very unfortunate that only one of us can go to the playoffs. District 6 has always gone and won. Now they've taken that away from us, which is very unfortunate," Hollidaysburg coach and former Altoona Lady Lion state champion player Deanna Jubeck said after last Thursday's home win against Altoona. "But you've got to deal with what you've got to deal with."
And the deal is that District 6 just doesn't have enough Class AAAA girls teams - five, since DuBois was moved into a subregional with District 10 - to garner more than one slot in the 32-team PIAA field. The PIAA determines how many entrants a district gets into states by the percentage of teams that district provides to the state total. There are 182 AAAA girls teams overall this year.
Actually, you have to go back to 2004 to find the last time District 6 was guaranteed more than one spot in the Class AAAA interdistrict field. The following year, in an effort to get around the PIAA's move to make the bracket more representative of the number of schools in each district, District 6 and District 10 moved proactively to set up a subregional in which each district's champ would play the other's runner-up. Two years later, the PIAA bought into the idea and set up a play-in round.
That's now gone.
PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said there were a number of reasons to cut the play-ins, including poor attendance and the cost of traveling to and putting on the games. The biggest argument in favor of the extra round was that districts that produced better teams would have to a chance to prove it by winning their way in, but Lombardi said it wasn't playing out that way very often.
"We found out that some of the games were so non-competitive that we were not able to justify them, and the districts getting the extra team were not winning often enough," Lombardi said.
District 6 basketball chairman T.J. Kakabar said he hasn't heard much in the way of disagreement, although Miffin County coach Kevin Kodish asked about checking with District 10 to see if they'd want to resume the old subregional set-up, which Kakabar thought would be OK with the PIAA.
"District 10 wasn't interested," Kakabar said.
With no other options, District 6 coaches seem to be just moving on and letting the chips fall where they may.
"We try to take care of ourselves," Jubeck said. "Then, hopefully, the rest of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place."
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.