Franco wants Lions to leave WPIAL

Altoona Area High School football coach John Franco thinks the Mountain Lions are facing a near impossible task in the WPIAL.

Speaking Thursday at the AASD Athletic Council meeting, Franco told a group of administrators and school board members he feels the school should look into the possibility of leaving the Western Pennsylvania league and perhaps forming a league with Central Pennsylvania schools.

“Our football program needs a lot of work,” Franco said. “It’s not in good shape.”

Franco coached at Altoona from 1986 through 1993, compiling a 40-45-2 record during that eight-year span. He then spent 18 seasons at Tyrone where he compiled an incredible record, leading the Golden Eagles to several District 6 Class AA titles and one PIAA state championship.

Franco began his second coaching stint with the Mountain Lions last season. The Lions went 4-5 during the regular-season, but still qualified for the WPIAL playoffs where they lost a first-round game to North Allegheny.

After competing in the Mid-Penn Conference in the Harrisburg/District 3 area for a few years, the Lions applied and were granted entry into the WPIAL in 2010. They are committed to play in the WPIAL through the 2013 season.

“Our most important thing is to get back into District 6,” Franco said. “We can’t compete with WPIAL schools. We don’t have a Pittsburgh identity, we have a District 6 identity.

“We probably wouldn’t be top dog in District 6 either, but I think we can build up the talent level.”

Franco mentioned State College, Central Mountain and Mifflin County, as well as DuBois and Williamsport, as schools who might be interested in playing Altoona, if the Lions were an independent.

Franco said it’s important for the Lions to have success.

“We have a better opportunity to win District 6,” he said. “We have no opportunity to win District 7 [WPIAL].”

Athletic director and former football coach Phil Riccio disagrees with Franco about the WPIAL.

“We have a great relationship with the WPIAL,” Riccio said. “They’ve accepted us and I think the WPIAL is a great place to be with the exposure our kids get.

“John [Franco] wants to look at an independent schedule,” Riccio continued, “but a lot of our other sports would like to be in the WPIAL because of the tough schedule. We’re kind of landlocked here.”

Riccio said he talked with some of the District 6 schools several years ago when he was coaching to try to form a league and, at that point, it was not going to happen. Most of them didn’t want a football-only league, he said.

“We’re in a bind because of where we sit in the middle of the state,” Riccio said. “We don’t have a lot of schools to draw from [for a schedule] without traveling great distances.

“With the WPIAL, it is Pittsburgh, but those trips are short – usually about an hour and a half or one 45,” he said, “and that benefits the rest of our sports.”

However, the Athletic Council directed Franco and Riccio to sit down together and see what can be done about the schedule.

“He’s talked to some schools and I’ve talked to some,” Riccio said, “and we’ll try to sit down again and get through this.”

In other news …

n Riccio announced that an informational meeting on the “Disclosure of Interscholastic Athletic Opportunities in Secondary Schools (Act 82) will be held in the AAHS auditorium Monday, June 3, at 10 a.m. The guest speaker will be Peg Pennepacker, State College athletic director.

n A new scoreboard soon will be erected at the Intramural Field on Sixth Avenue. The board was donated by Bill Benzel of Benzel’s Bretzel Bakery.