Carroll, Chestnut Ridge find new homes this year

After several years traveling all across Pennsylvania and several other states to play its high school football season, Chestnut Ridge will begin play in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference when football season kicks off Friday.

The Lions just happen to be taking the place of another local school, Bishop Carroll Catholic.

The Huskies, however, will not face the same fate as Chestnut Ridge did as an independent school. Bishop Carroll will play a Mountain League schedule, though the Huskies must serve a probation period before becoming an official member of the conference.

“It’s fantastic, because it’s much easier than an independent schedule,” Bishop Carroll coach Sean Billings said. “The teams we’re playing, we’re going to see a lot of different looks year in and year out. It will definitely prepare us for the year.”

The Huskies are coming off a 2-9 season and will initially have to endure some long trips before settling into the Mountain League slate. Bishop Carroll will play East Hardy, W.Va. at a neutral site to open the season after Saint Joseph’s dropped its football program before traveling to play at East Canton, Ohio.

Though the trips can prove to be challenging, Chestnut Ridge coach Max Shoemaker said they helped his teams bond.

“We tried to make the best of those trips,” Shoemaker said. “We had several 200-mile or more trips over the years. We have been all over, but we always tried to eat a pregame meal, whether it be on a college campus or trying to find something close by, to give our kids some exposure. We made the best of it, but it will be nice to travel 45 minutes as opposed to 2¢ hours.”

The Lions were previously a member of the LHAC early in Shoemaker’s time at the school, but he said it will take some time to readjust to the conference.

“It will be interesting,” Shoemaker said. “The challenge is that we’ll have 10 new opponents that we’re playing this year. You don’t have a history with their quality players. The only coach from when I was in the league before is (Forest Hills coach Don) Bailey, and the game has changed tremendously since that time. It will be kind of like we’re going in blind.”

Unlike Bishop Carroll, Chestnut Ridge is coming off a very successful season. The Lions won a District 5 Class 2A title over Berlin Brothersvalley before losing in the PIAA playoffs last year. The Lions lost several good athletes, but Shoemaker is happy to have found a home for his program.

“The other teams in the league only have to learn one new team,” Shoemaker said. “We have to learn 10. We’re just excited about the opportunity and being in a conference. We’re excited that kids who meet up in the fall will meet again on the basketball court in the winter and on the field in the spring.”

Playing against familiar kids throughout the school year is something Bishop Carroll will not get to experience.

“It’s definitely different not being able to play Central Cambria and Penn Cambria this year, because those are big rivalries for us,” Billings said. “We’re hoping to renew some old rivalries like from when we used to play Central in the Laurel Highlands. We’re moving into a conference that has phenomenal competition and trying to get started.”

The schedule change also means seniors on this year’s Carroll team will not get the chance to play a final time against those traditional rivals.

“It’s definitely weird to not face the kids you have come to know,” Bishop Carroll senior Trevor Hogue said. “It’s really weird.”

Most of the Huskies are just happy to be playing football.

“Most of us are from those areas (in the LHAC), but it doesn’t really matter,” Bishop Carroll’s Jarrett Grove said. “It’s just another jersey on the field. We need to worry about the teams on our schedule and not worry about the Laurel Highlands. We just need to move on.”

Though the Huskies might be traveling a little longer for away games, they finally have a full-time field at their own school and will not be playing any home games at Saint Francis.

“It’s just easier, we don’t have to travel,” Grove said. “The whole school can come to games. We have our own locker rooms, and it feels like a home field environment.”

The Huskies will play a tough schedule, traveling to Tyrone and Clearfield and hosting Huntingdon, Central and Bellefonte.

“It’s going to take a learning curve,” Billings said. “But in the same respect, these teams don’t know much about us. It should be interesting this first year for everybody.”