George Guido: Landmark decision for A-K Valley schools made 100 years ago

By: George Guido
Tuesday, April 9, 2019 | 7:01 PM

This marks the 100th anniversary of what might be considered the biggest off-field move in local scholastic sports history.

On April 10, 1919, eight area schools abandoned the old Allegheny-Kiski Valley League and joined the WPIAL.

Tarentum, New Kensington, Parnassus, Kittanning, Ford City, Vandergrift, Apollo and Oakmont became WPIAL members for the first time earlier in 1919 for basketball only.

Later, all sports were added.

Until that point, nonmembers playing WPIAL schools were considered nonconference games and didn’t count toward the WPIAL standings and felt slighted. Once the local schools met league regulations, they were admitted.

But starting with the 1919 WPIAL basketball season, which didn’t begin until mid-January that year, Alle-Kiski Valley schools were eligible for the playoffs for the first time.

The area schools were placed in Section V, and there was just one classification.

Tarentum became the first school to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs, winning Section V with a 13-1 record. The team was eliminated from the tournament by Braddock, 32-20.

In fact, in the first three seasons, A-K teams were eliminated in the opening round. Kittanning became the first local team to win a WPIAL playoff game, knocking off Pittsburgh South Hills, 26-12, in 1922.

The eight schools also played WPIAL football for the first time in 1919.

By then, Leechburg joined and sponsored football for the first time. Apollo opened Owens Field in September of that year and played Leechburg to open the new stadium.

But there were no WPIAL playoffs at the time.

It might seem hard to believe now, but the WPIAL football champion was declared by the Syracuse Alumni Association of Western Pennsylvania. The group would convene and decide who should be considered the WPIAL football champion. That school would be awarded the Syracuse Cup.

During the 1920s, Verona and Arnold began fielding athletic teams in 1921, along with tiny Natrona High School.

Freeport came on board in 1922.

Aspinwall joined the WPIAL in 1923 after being independent for 15 years.

In 1925, Natrona was absorbed by the Har-Brack jointure, and Springdale came along a year later.

The first school to win a WPIAL title of any kind was Oakmont, declared the Class AA football champs of 1928.

An interesting sidelight to the 1919 basketball season was when New Kensington had a home game that featured a pro wrestling match at halftime.

Winton Seybold defeated Wanseld Gillis at the Ridge Avenue gym.

The great Dick Groat

The accolades continue coming for Dick Groat, who recently stepped down as Pitt basketball radio commentator.

Groat, 88, was recognized near the end of the Panthers basketball season and by the Pirates at PNC Park prior to last week’s Opening Day game.

Groat, who graduated from Swissvale in 1948, is one of only three players from WPIAL schools to be elected as a major league baseball MVP, winning the award in 1960.

The others are Donora’s Stan Musial (1943, ’45 and ’48) and Wampum’s Dick Allen (1972). Note that all three high schools no longer exist.

Groat has the distinction of being the only athlete to be named college basketball player of the year and an MLB MVP.

He was drafted by the old Fort Wayne Pistons of the NBA but turned to baseball full-time without playing an inning of minor league baseball.

Groat fondly recalled his time with the Swissvale American Legion baseball team at a speech several years back at the Armstrong County Sports Hall of Fame banquet.

“We’d come to Freeport and get our (behinds) kicked by Sonny Westerman’s teams,” Groat said.

His grandson, Steve Scorpion, coaches the Franklin Regional boys basketball team.

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