Ligonier Valley had plenty of success on long and winding road back to the WPIAL

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Saturday, September 5, 2020 | 11:00 PM


Ligonier Valley, the WPIAL’s newest member, didn’t depart the district five decades ago and make its way back this season in a straight line. There were many twists and turns along the way.

When the school left the WPIAL for the Mountain Conference on Dec. 12, 1968, it wasn’t an all-in proposition. Only the football team moved on. Basketball, golf, wrestling and track stayed with the WPIAL for another 10 years.

Football coach Eugene Seiling, principal John McCutcheon and athletic director Orvis Steimer spearheaded the move to leave the WPIAL for the Mountain Conference with teams from Districts 5 and 6 of the PIAA.

Ligonier did well in the new conference for a few years before moving into the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.

When the Appalachian Conference split into two groups — the Heritage and WestPAC in 2000 — Ligonier was invited to replace Bishop Carroll of Ebensburg in the Heritage.

Then came the district’s big move when the school board voted 8-1 to merge Ligonier and Laurel Valley high schools in 2010. Ligonier Valley became one the largest schools in District 6.

With Roger Beitel at the helm, the Rams became the elite program in the Heritage Conference, winning five conference titles and only having one losing season, going 4-6 in 2014.

During the past 10 seasons, the Rams went 96-25, won four Appalachian Bowl titles and reached the District 6 Class 2A finals four consecutive seasons, winning in 2016 and 2017.

Now, 50 years later, Ligonier Valley is back where it started, in the WPIAL. The PIAA board unanimously approved the move in December.

“A lot people think this move is all about football,” Beitel said. “It is not. It’s for the betterment of all our students in every sport.”

Former Ligonier Valley School Board President Irvin Tantlinger added: “We took a survey of all the coaches in every sport. They all agreed the move would be good.

“Many of our athletes aren’t getting competition in the Heritage Conference. The soccer team, girls golf team and softball team have to look outside the conference and District 6 for games.”

Tantlinger acknowledged the competition will be tougher in the WPIAL.

“The junior varsity football team played very few games,” Tantlinger said. “We feel it will be better and a good move for our students.”

Ligonier Valley has been dominant in almost every sport since 2010, especially softball, baseball, soccer, track and field and basketball.

The basketball team reached the District 6 Class 3A finals three consecutive seasons, winning in 2018.

The WPIAL welcomed Ligonier Valley back with open arms, especially because it is a school in Westmoreland County, which the WPIAL encompasses. Ligonier is only 11 miles east of Latrobe on Route 30.

Even when Laurel Valley, which was a merger of Bolivar and New Florence, was a member of District 6, the championship trophy did not mention Westmoreland County.

“We discovered that when we won our first title,” Beitel said.

While in the WPIAL, Ligonier Valley football was 139-220-23. The former Heritage Conference powerhouse will compete in the Class 2A Allegheny Conference with Apollo-Ridge, Serra Catholic, Shady Side Academy, Steel Valley and Summit Academy, although Summit chose to opt out this fall.

Ligonier won two WPIAL individual championships before it left.

Ray Nelson was the WPIAL golf champion in 1977 and John Chendy claimed a PIAA wrestling title in 1978 and was a two-time WPIAL champion in 1977 and ’78.

Over the past 10 years, Ligonier Valley has sent a long list of athletes to NCAA Division I programs.

Maddy Grimm played softball at Kent State. Robert Patrick is wrestling at Virginia, Hannah Patrick runs track at Lehigh, Josh Patrick wrestled at Rutgers, and Justin Patrick wrestled at Cleveland State.

On the football side, Collin Smith attended West Virginia. Aaron Tutino and Wylie Spiker are at St. Francis, Michael Petrof is at the Naval Academy, Christian Jablonski is at Lehigh, Micah Tennant played at Bucknell, and Alec Bloom played at UConn.

Sara Klinchock is golfing at St. Francis, Jane Garver plays softball at Robert Morris, Kristen Gabelt played softball at Robert Morris, and Lexie Petrof plays softball at Akron.

In fact, the Ligonier Valley football team had 11 players from the 2019 squad alone move on to play college football.

“We’re looking forward to the new challenge,” boys basketball coach John Berger said.

It’s a challenge Ligonier Valley looks ready to tackle.

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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