As playoffs start, American Legion baseball thriving in some parts of Western Pa., struggling in others

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Saturday, July 2, 2022 | 11:01 AM


American Legion Baseball starts to get a little more intense beginning this week.

That’s when league playoffs are scheduled in Region 6 (Allegheny, Beaver and Fayette County leagues) and in Region 7 (District 31 for Westmoreland and Indiana county teams, Central Penn and Cambria leagues).

The region tournaments are scheduled to start July 15.

While things have proceeded as normally as possible in Region 7, Region 6 has seen a lack of participation since covid-19 wiped out the 2020 season.

Allegheny County is down to four teams (North Allegheny, Bethel Park, Baldwin and Thomas Jefferson), Beaver has six (Baden, Beaver, Blackhawk, Center/Monaca, Hopewell and New Brighton), and Fayette has shrunk to five teams (Belle Vernon, Charleroi, Connellsville, Smithfield/Masontown and Uniontown).

Bethel Park got off to a late start because of the success of the high school team, which won consecutive PIAA titles, and is struggling to play the mandatory amount of games (12) to qualify for the region playoffs.

“It’s a shame,” Uniontown coach Brad Yohman and Fayette League vice-president said.

“I think Bethel Park is having a hard time playing games because of the extended high school season.

“When I played for Uniontown, there were 10 teams in the Fayette League and I think Allegheny had as many as 18.”

The numbers in Allegheny County have dwindled over the years.

Region 6 Director Ron Popovich said getting North Allegheny back in the league may encourage other teams to return.

Allegheny also added Thomas Jefferson this season but lost Elizabeth Forward, South Allegheny and Highlands.

“We’re hurt some by travel ball, but covid hurt us again this season,” Popovich said.

Yohman said adding Junior Legion teams in Connellsville and Uniontown has helped their programs.

Yohman and Region 7 Director and Latrobe coach Jason Bush said they hope more high school coaches would encourage players to stay home instead of joining travel teams.

“Travel teams tell kids that college coaches are coming to see them at tournaments,” Yohman said. “I tell the players when they go, ask to see the roster of college coaches that are there. They’ll find out there are few or none in attendance. College coaches are using social media to recruit.

“What are they playing for in travel ball? Maybe a trophy? At least in American Legion, you’re playing for a chance to playing the state tournament and possibly advancing to a regional tournament and the World Series.”

Yohman’s Uniontown squad made it to the final day of the state tournament in 2021 after winning the Region 6 tournament.

Hempfield East from Region 7 and District 31 was state runner-up in 2019 and advanced to the Midwest Regional.

While there was not an official American Legion season in 2020 because of covid, Region 7 did have a season and played a Region 7 tournament.

Bush said having that season helped keep the interest alive in the region. He also said having veteran coaches over the years has helped.

“I know it’s been a struggle all around,” Bush said.

“But our league seems to be getting stronger. We’re able to get good people in position as coaches. We’re hoping to increase the amount of teams in Region 7 next season.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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