Countdown to kickoff 2022: Cumberland Valley out to show it’s the right site (at the right price) for PIAA finals

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Thursday, August 4, 2022 | 5:19 PM


When the PIAA awarded the state football championships to Cumberland Valley, the sudden exit from Hersheypark Stadium caught most by surprise.

After 24 years in Hershey, the state finals are leaving the so-called “sweetest place on Earth” this fall for a high school stadium about 30 miles away. The PIAA in February revealed Cumberland Valley, a school district just west of Harrisburg, won the bidding process to host for the next four years, beating out offers from Hersheypark, Penn State’s Beaver Stadium and Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium.

The state finals are Dec. 8-10.

The bids came with a wide range of price tags, stretching from six figures to free, according to proposals submitted by the host sites. With high school football season now days away, athletic director Michael Craig said he and his Cumberland Valley colleagues are eager to show that the PIAA made the right choice.

“I’ve read some of the stuff that people wrote, and everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Craig said. “But we’re going to try to prove people wrong who doubted that we’ll be able to handle it. Yeah, we are a high school venue, but it’s a pretty nice facility.”

Lately, it’s gotten even nicer.

Artificial turf replaced the natural grass at Chapman Field, a large video scoreboard was added and one of the two press boxes is scheduled for renovation in the coming weeks, key upgrades meant to make the 8,045-seat stadium one of the state’s best.

The field is less than 10 miles from the PIAA office in Mechanicsburg.

“We’re excited,” Craig said. “We weren’t sure how (the selection process) was going to go, but we felt that we put together a really good proposal.”

In February, the PIAA executive staff described Cumberland Valley’s winning bid as the right combination of facilities and finances.

The school district won’t charge a rental fee and will bill the PIAA only for game day expenses such as security, EMTs, clock operator and ticket takers. That totals $10,630 annually, but the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation pledged $8,000 per year, cutting the PIAA’s cost further.

The district also offered to share a percentage of food and beverage concessions with the PIAA.

In comparison, the cost to rent Beaver Stadium for three days was $140,000. In February, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi thanked Penn State for the opportunity to use the 100,000-seat stadium, but added: “With the number of people that we have been drawing in the last five years, I’m not sure we could have paid the bill.”

Playing six games on Beaver Stadium’s grass surface was also concerning.

Hersheypark’s bid was based on a split of ticket revenue. The PIAA would receive the first $40,000 with Hersheypark receiving 45% of additional sales. However, the 83-year-old stadium has its flaws, including antiquated locker rooms that couldn’t easily accommodate big-school teams.

Altoona School District offered to host the championship for free at Mansion Park Stadium, without charging a rental fee or expenses. Altoona was host for the state finals before they moved to Hershey, but the PIAA preferred the location closer to Harrisburg.

Cumberland Valley is about five miles from where Interstate 81 and the turnpike meet.

“We’re 190 miles from Pittsburgh, and we’re 177 miles from Philadelphia,” Craig said. “It’s pretty darn close to being centrally located. We’ve hosted a bunch of Philly vs. Pittsburgh matchups in basketball.”

The PIAA executive staff praised the facilities at Cumberland Valley, which has multiple artificial turf playing surfaces, including an adjacent soccer field and an indoor facility. The PIAA also highlighted that the school has an athletic training center, cafeterias for team meals, film rooms and meeting spaces for teams, officials and media.

The soccer field will let state finalists practice on site, something they couldn’t do at Hersheypark.

When the games were in Hershey, teams had to find a nearby school for their walkthrough. In fact, Mt. Lebanon practiced last season at Cumberland Valley a day before winning the PIAA Class 6A title in Hershey.

“I know (Mt. Lebanon athletic director) John Grogan and some of the other guys out in Western Pa., so they’d call me,” Craig said. “Now, since we’re hosting it, we have that other field right there where people can do their walkthrough.”

Cumberland Valley also won bids to host PIAA championships in boys and girls soccer, field hockey and girls volleyball for the next four years. The field hockey finals will be played at the football stadium. The soccer finals are on the adjacent soccer field, which is wider than the football field.

Craig described the football bid as a collaborative effort with help from the school district’s communications director and its business manager. The district is one of the 20 largest in the state with nearly 10,000 students.

“Our school board, our superintendent, our principal, they’re all very supportive of athletics, so they were happy to host,” Craig said. “Our school board does a good job of putting money into athletics. They realize the importance of athletics in kids’ lives. With the facilities we have, it shows.”

However, one dilemma remains unresolved. No longer can fans toss Hershey’s Kisses, a tradition when the games were in Hershey, so is there an alternate celebration for Cumberland Valley?

“We’re going to have to think of something good,” Craig said. “We’ll work on that.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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