Ligonier Valley has extra challenge moving to WPIAL

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Friday, August 7, 2020 | 5:48 PM


Jude Grzywinski, Jr., the latest hulking lineman looking to make his mark at Ligonier Valley, just wants an opportunity to play football this season.

The year 2020 — the dreaded number on the calendar that will pockmark troubling times shaped by a global pandemic — is supposed to be a landmark year for Ligonier Valley. But making history is almost secondary at this point.

The school is primed to make its long-awaited and much-anticipated return to the WPIAL. The approval to do so happened last December and was not completely a surprise.

Covid-19 and its crippling effects, though — nobody saw that coming.

“All of us are getting stronger each day and can’t wait for the season to start, no matter what,” said Grzywinski, a 6-foot-2, 290-pound center and defensive tackle. “We all want football to happen. Moving to the WPIAL will benefit all of us with competition and getting better every day. And I feel that every other program in Ligonier wants to play no matter how they have to do it.”

At least three weeks already were sawed off each football team’s schedule since the WPIAL moved the starting date for games to Sept. 10 as part of a delayed, or “hybrid” approach to the season. But that start date could change with the PIAA announcing Friday an additional two-week delay until the start of fall sports.

Football training camps are set to open Aug. 24 with heat acclimatization.

“Much like any new process, getting settled into the WPIAL will take time and will involve a few key steps,” said Rams first-year athletic director Wesley Siko, a Greensburg Salem graduate. “This is an exciting time for our learner-athletes, teams and administration. We’re here to work and grow together, and I’m honored to be part of the process.

Ligonier Valley has spent the last five decades competing in District 6. The Rams sponsor fall sports teams in football, boys and girls soccer, cross country, girls tennis, girls volleyball and boys and girls golf.

All sports were affected by schedule changes. Most had to cut games to fit the WPIAL’s new plan.

The first athletic event for Ligonier Valley in its second WPIAL go-round likely will be a golf match because that sport is set to open first, Aug. 27.

The district didn’t ask for any of these delays and doesn’t want any special attention. But premiering in a new league in 2020 is just coincidentally bad timing that dims a spotlight that was set to showcase the Rams’ pilot episode.

This is a rite of passage no newcomer deserves.

“I would say it is more motivating to play because we all feel that we deserve it along with every other kid in any sport right now,” Grzywinski said. “It can be frustrating … but wanting to play is all we want and what we strive for.”

Ligonier Valley, a member of the Heritage Conference since 2000, was a WPIAL member for 43 years, from 1927-69.

Laurel Valley and Ligonier Valley merged in 2010.

Football was supposed to open the season Aug. 28 (Week Zero) at home against Indiana. But the revised, seven-game schedule now has a debut Sept. 11 at Apollo-Ridge.

Each team has one scrimmage, on Sept. 4. The Rams will play Elizabeth Forward at home.

The Rams, a perennial PIAA contender in Class 3A, will be a 2A team in the WPIAL and play in a yet-to-be-named conference.

They are working to fill an open date in Week 3 (Sept. 25).

Coach Roger Beitel said there were never any reservations about joining the WPIAL, even during covid-19 times.

“Those thoughts have never even crossed any of our minds,” Beitel said. “We are in the same situation as every other team. The only difference is that we were all looking forward to beginning being part of this new chapter.”

Joining the WPIAL — from the idea’s inception to the WPIAL’s stamp of approval — was a long process that involved input from numerous school officials and groups.

The same can be said for schools’ return-to-play guidelines that have opened the door for fall sports to be played again across the state.

As Beitel said, Ligonier Valley is just like all of its WPIAL counterparts when it comes to the long buildup to opening night.

It’s the pageantry and significance, which the Rams hope does not get lost in the shuffle of simply trying to play without covid-19 doing any more damage, that makes the school’s athletic programs different.

“We are fortunate that we have an administration that worked really hard to get our re-socialization plan written, approved, and in place as quickly as they did,” Beitel said. “This has allowed for our team to get back to training and working out again. We are ready to begin heat acclimatization on Monday and then start camp.

“Having hope of playing football has been very therapeutic for all of us.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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