No one to play: As some city schools move into WPIAL, Obama baseball and softball players wonder, ‘What about us?’



When the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (WPIAL) agreed to take certain city schools into their association in certain sports, it meant that they would work with a City League consortium to pick and choose the schools and sports that they would allow in the league. The biggest name in scholastic sports in this region and certainly one of the best known in the country, the affects of the movement from City League into WPIAL impacts the students at Pittsburgh Obama greatly in an unfortunate way.

The swimming and soccer team were in the WPIAL this year for the first time with mixed results. Yet the baseball and softball teams remain in what’s left of the city league. Allderdice, Carrick and Brashear have all been accepted into the WPIAL for competition but that leaves three high schools, Obama, Perry, and Westinghouse, to compete among  themselves. This “city league” no longer has a championship and each of the schools only have 6 game schedules, which are against the other two schools. Athletic directors at Obama, Perry and Westinghouse schools could try to set up exhibition games with teams in the WPIAL but it’s very hard since they have a full season to prepare for and don’t have the time to play an off the record game. And of course, the poor weather has played a part in the inability to schedule games. But while the WPIAL thrives in its own monopoly of sorts, it leaves some schools in the dust with nowhere to go.

This is the case with Obama baseball and softball, and while the decision to move into the WPIAL is greeted as being a good one by most, the apparent memory lapse about schools left behind is another thing altogether.

“The committee that came up with this plan  ought to be ashamed of itself.”

Harsh words from 25 year fast-pitch softball coach—and former Obama baseball coach—Mr.Kocur. He is describing his feelings as city teams join the WPIAL in baseball and softball this spring…and leave Obama, Perry and Westinghouse behind.

“It’s outrageous, it’s reprehensible. In all of my years of coaching, it’s the worst thing I’ve seen a governing body do,” Kocur says. “ The lack of foresight in this case just numbs the mind. No one thought of the schools being left behind or of the student-athletes? Outrageous.”

Athletic Director Mr.McGee agrees. “It’s crazy….just crazy.” Leaving three schools behind irks him, as well. “There are so many teams in the WPIAL. I would have to print off a sheet to name them all. We  should be on that sheet.” Magee believes that playing in the WPIAL improves city players’ overall level of play and that the competition is inspiring, giving city players exposure they normally wouldn’t receive. More pointedly, he feels Obama can eventually compete with the WPIAL. To his credit, McGee has been able to schedule baseball games against Bishop Canevin, Sto Rox and Keystone Oaks.But he is disappointed in noting that he has not had much more luck in adding exhibition games with WPIAL schools, especially with the horrible weather we’ve had.

Softball Coach Ms.Wagner feels a bit differently about the entry into the WPIAL to begin with. “Overall, softball in the city is terrible…there is no ability to build a program and we’re playing kids on a different level in the WPIAL. Given those facts, Wagner doesn’t see competing in the WPIAL as being an option for an Obama.“We don’t have the talent to compete.,” and without a feeder program from elementary/middle school or the community recreational leagues, “We don’t stand a chance against WPIAL teams.”

Still, none of this explains why three city schools were left behind. None of this explains the reasoning that would entail a student who loves baseball or softball having a six game schedule. None of this explains why a city parent, who pays taxes, would agree with the city’s own not having a real season and chance for a real championship.

“Obama and Perry may have taken some lumps in the first few years if they were moved into the WPIAL, but they have the numbers of kids actually playing, “ Mr.Kocur says. “They have the interest in the sport. How do you just leave them behind?”

Meanwhile, Golf and Swim team coach Mr.Rauterkus sees the positives and the negatives of the move. He believes that sweeping changes in terms of the approach to athletics is needed.” The city has always had talented student athlete and some dedicated coaches. But we all know that the opportunities for city residents and that of our suburban competitors are not similar, he says. “ We have plenty of catch up to do. But, the pressing need is to make the top administrators see the value of wholistic athletic programs and then expend the energy to empower our coaches. Most of all, these are economical, efficient and healthy mental investments.”

Mr.Rauterkus believes that perhaps the moves were made without putting the necessary emphasis on upgrading athletics in PPS. “Some reformers wanted to migrate PPS teams to the WPIAL, but all were in full agreement that serious overhauls and upgrades to PPS sports programs and opportunities were necessary.”  So it seems that some recommendations were accepted and some just set aside. And within this, little thought was given to the schools that were left behind in every sport.

“I’m just at a loss to explain how that can happen,” Kocur says. “It just can’t happen.”

Perhaps baseball player Cam Miller put it best. “I think it stinks. You get better by playing the best competition,” he said. “I’d much rather be playing WPIAL schools.”