Mark Zilinskas has mixed feelings about the WPIAL re-alignment announced this week.
On one hand, the Indiana High football coach is happy to be lumped into the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference with some familiar faces. But he’s disappointed to see the Indians lose a game with one of their closest rivals, Highlands.
The WPIAL maintained its format of three nine-team conferences in Class AAA, but Derry and Highlands dropped down to Class AA, leaving two vacant spots in the conference. Gateway, a perennial Class AAAA power that has dropped down a class; and Yough will join the Greater Allegheny Conference to fill those spots.
The Greater Allegheny will now feature Franklin Regional, Gateway, Greensburg Salem, Hampton, Hollidaysburg, Indiana, Knoch, Mars and Yough.
“Certainly, you look at the history of Gateway, and they’ve had a lot of success. They’re maybe not as strong as they were five or 10 years ago, but they’re still one of the better programs in all of the WPIAL,” Zilinskas said. “I look at it like ‘We’ve got some good teams, and we’ll see how we compare.’ It’s a little disappointing having Highlands leave. We played them for a really long time and started to develop a nice rivalry.”
“The big thing I was pleased about is that we remained with three conferences. Being able to play eight conference games out of nine (regular-season) games is big. Those non-conference games really don’t matter. It’s a good thing to have (eight conference games). I think you get your best 16 teams in the playoffs. I’m pleased about that. I’m looking forward to it. I think everyone else is.”
The realignment affected all four area WPIAL teams.
In addition to Derry’s drop to Class AA, Apollo-Ridge and West Shamokin are moving up to Class AA.
Along with Apollo-Ridge and West Shamokin, the Allegheny Conference will also include Burrell, Deer Lakes, Ford City, Freeport, Highlands, Kittanning, Shady Side Academy and Valley.
Derry will be in the Class AA Interstate conference with Brownsville, Burgettstown, Charleroi, McGuffey, Mount Pleasant, Southmoreland, Washington and Waynesburg.
“I think everybody anticipated this,” Zilinskas said. “It was kind of a no-brainer. As early as three months ago, everybody was speculating that it would happen. We’re glad it worked out that way. We welcome these two new teams, and we’re excited to see how we stack up.”
Although the WPIAL typically realigns schools every two years, this plan will last only one school year because Kittanning and Ford City, both in Class AA, will combine into one school beginning in 2015, and the new unnamed school will likely be in Class AAA.