Union confusion leads Imani Christian basketball team on ride to wrong school

Saturday, March 6, 2021 | 1:47 AM

Sixty miles separate the Union Area High School near New Castle from Union High School in Rimersburg, but the districts with matching names continue to cause trouble for bus drivers.

For the second time in four years, a WPIAL basketball team ended up at the wrong one.

This time, the Imani Christian boys basketball team needed to travel to Lawrence County for a WPIAL playoff game Friday night and instead made its way to Clarion County.

“I think our bus driver got the wrong information and he took us somewhere,” Imani coach Omar Foster said. “As coaches, we just get on the bus and sit down. Before we knew it, we were in the wrong place. This was just a misunderstanding.”

The error wasn’t noticed until the team arrived at the wrong destination. Union Rimersburg isn’t part of the WPIAL but instead PIAA District 9.

“We went to the school,” Foster said, “and they were like, you’re at the wrong Union.”

Holy Family Academy made the same mistake in Jan. 2018, also making the trip to Clarion County. That was only for a regular-season game, so the contest was postponed.

This time, everybody waited.

“I was sitting in the office watching Rochester/Western Beaver and some Bishop Canevin/St. Joes,” Union coach Mark Stanley said on the HSSN broadcast. “That’s how I spent it. We were in there watching and talking.”

Google Maps says the two Unions are about an hour and 19 minutes apart. So, after riding more than an hour to the one in Rimersburg, Imani Christian turned west and drove to the correct Union near New Castle.

The Saints were scheduled to play in a Class A quarterfinal at 6 p.m. Instead, the game started around 7:30 p.m.

“We were on the bus literally two and a half hours before the game,” said Foster, who’s in his third season as coach. “I was very frustrated and angry, but you try and keep a level head because we still knew we still have a game to play. I was trying to keep the kids focused and settled but I was furious.”

Knowing they had another 60-mile drive ahead, Foster didn’t want a silent, sullen bus ride.

“I had to jump up and scream and yell and clap my hands to get the guys ready to go,” he said, laughing. “I probably did that three times in the hour and a half.”

The fourth-seeded Saints (11-3) ultimately lost 65-53 to No. 5 Union (10-4), but Foster wouldn’t blame that on the bus ride.

“We don’t want to use any excuses,” he said. “We just got outplayed today. It doesn’t matter if we were on the bus four hours, we just got outplayed. Union played really well.”

Only the WPIAL champion advances to the state tournament, a covid-related adjustment made this winter by the PIAA, so the Saints season ended Friday.

It was a rough night, Foster said, ending what was a rough season at times. The team canceled its final three regular-season games over covid-19 concerns, but Foster said he saw reasons to be appreciative.

“It’s a blessing to have the seniors — like Aidan Betsill and Demetrius Epps — get a chance to play their final games,” he said. “I’m happy for that. Sometimes it doesn’t end how you want it to end, but overall everybody’s healthy, nobody’s hurt, we had a decent year.”

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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