Leagues need to find room for rivalries

Commentary

Believe it or not, the high school football season kicks off tonight.

Along with the Bellwood-Antis, Tyrone “Backyard Brawl,” Blair County rivals Altoona and Hollidaysburg will renew their rivalry to highlight tonight’s slate of games. Other non-league battles include Central at Northern Bedford, Huntingdon at Mount Union and West Branch at Philipsburg-Osceola.

The Mountain Lions and Golden Tigers haven’t met since 2011, because Altoona’s WPIAL schedule did not allow space for the game. Now that Altoona is in the Mid-Penn, the rivalry is back on and being taken very seriously.

Games between Tyrone and Bellwood, and Altoona vs. Hollidaysburg are something that is looked forward to by communities in those school districts all summer.

Many of these games are possible because of the openings in the Mountain League and Inter-County Conference schedules. The Inter-County Conference has enough teams to play league games the entire season but doesn’t do that to give teams a chance to play in a rivalry game.

Sure, there are plenty of rivals within the leagues in our area, but kids at Bellwood don’t spend all year reveling in a win over Juniata Valley the way they do with a victory over Tyrone.

This brings us to the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference. Teams in the LHAC play all 10 games within the league, meaning that the “Coal Bowl” between Northern Cambria and Cambria Heights can only take place on rare occasions when neither team makes the playoffs and they add an extra game.

Bishop Carroll Catholic will no longer play cross-town rival Central Cambria or Penn Cambria after being ousted from the league in favor of Chestnut Ridge, which finally gets to regularly play rival Bedford again.

The Heritage Conference and WestPAC also play the majority of their games in the league, allowing only for a contest between the two leagues that is tied into order of finish to close out the regular season.

Of course, this makes scheduling easier for teams without a built-in rival and avoids trips to West Virginia (ask Chestnut Ridge recently and Carroll after tonight about those).

Still, the feeling is that a system in which Altoona and Hollidaysburg could go more than half a decade without playing each other is wrong. Beyond postseason competition, tonight is the highlight of the year for the schools involved in these storied rivalries. Those memories should never be taken away from kids who will someday share them with their own children preparing for the same games.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521. Follow @BoytimMichael on Twitter.

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