Heritage Conference provides Saltsburg options after forfeiting football game to Ligonier Valley

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 | 10:18 PM


Are the Ligonier Valley athletic teams too good for the PIAA District 6 Heritage Conference?

The football team’s success has one conference athletic director talking that way.

Saltsburg athletic director Glenn Richards addressed that on Indiana radio station WDAD’s Coaches Corner talk show on Saturday after he informed Ligonier Valley officials that Saltsburg would not be playing Friday’s scheduled conference game and would be forfeiting the contest.

The Trojans (1-2) are coming off consecutive losses to Northern Cambria and Blairsville. During the Blairsville game, Saltsburg had four players do down with injuries.

Saltsburg, which is part of the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District, has 19 players on the roster and one player hasn’t played a game yet this season as he recovers from a non-football injury sustained this summer.

Richards said on the talk show the reason for the forfeit was for the safety, health and welfare of the Saltsburg student-athletes. He also size of the size of the Ligonier Valley School District, which has the largest boys enrollment in Class 2A — 197 boys compared to Saltsburg’s 69, which is the smallest in the Heritage Conference.

There are 20 teams in the Heritage Conference and three play in Class 2A. Across the state, there are 10 public school teams with Class A status that elect to play in 2A, including Western Beaver (69) and Berlin-Brothersvalley (88). Aliquippa, a Class A team, has elected to play in Class 3A.

“It’s not fair to be the lowest enrollment schools in the league and be in a bracket with people twice our size,” Richards said. “We can play with some teams in the WestPAC. When the Heritage Conference was formed, it was for small school enrollments.”

Ligonier Valley became the largest school in the conference after it was forced to join with Laurel Valley in 2010. There has been talk in the past that Saltsburg and Blairsville were going to join, but there hasn’t been any movement on that front.

Heritage Conference president Jody Rainey, the Homer-Center principal, said he’s been in contact with both schools, and the league has provided three options for Saltsburg to consider. He wouldn’t divulge what they were and said there are no plans on penalizing Saltsburg.

“I understand they’re concerned about the safety of their athletes,” Rainey said. “I don’t share the same opinion as Glenn about the size of Ligonier Valley.

“There are two other schools that have large enrollment numbers, 171 (Marion Center) and 162 (West Shamokin), in the conference and I’m not hearing any complaints about playing them.”

Saltsburg defeated Marion Center, 22-12, in Week Zero.

Rainey said both districts have concerns and need to work things out. The conference has talked with both districts about what is occurring and doubts this will be an ongoing issue.

Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said the decision to forfeit to his team is unprecedented. He said it affects more than his football team; it affects the band, cheerleaders, boosters clubs and different organizations that surround the game.

The Rams only have four home games scheduled, so Beitel said losing one is costly.

“Our student-athletes can never get this game back,” Beitel said. “Everyone involved is disappointed.”

Rainey said Ligonier Valley will receive the victory and will not be affected in the District 2A rankings.

He also said that understands both sides and said the conference is united.

“There will be no movement from the conference to push schools out,” Rainey said. “For people to say Ligonier Valley should be moved out, that’s not going to happen. We invited them to be a member. Our goal is to make the conference stronger than ever.”

Rainey said the conference has produced a lot of District 6 champions over the years and it disappoints him when people put the conference down.

Ligonier Valley has won consecutive PIAA District 6 2A football titles, and Homer-Center was the District 6 champion in 2017 and made it to the Class A state finals.

In basketball, Saltsburg won the Heritage Conference title in 2017 and defeated Ligonier Valley, which plays in Class 3A.

“We can’t compete against a team that size,” Richards said. “It’s not just that Ligonier Valley is in 2A, they’re that good. The kids in our school want to keep football going in our community, but what good is it to get beat 66-0.

“Things have changed and every sport is a year-around thing. I think we should make all sports seasonal again.”

Richards added: “I’ll give that man (Roger) credit; he’s turned that place around. They lift weights and we don’t have that luxury.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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