New football divisions lauded at District 9 media day

RIDGWAY, Pa. – District 9 made major headlines last October when it was announced that the Allegheny Mountain League and the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference would be dissolving in football, forming three new divisions – Large School, Small School North and Small School South.

There was much discussion at Wednesday’s District 9 football media day in Ridgway about the new alignment, and the overwhelming consensus among coaches was overwhelmingly positive.

“We’re ecstatic about it,” said first-year Sheffield coach Chris Korbar. “It levels the playing field where we’re going through four or five games right in a row where the kids get beat down a little bit because they’re playing bigger schools and kids that have stuff that smaller schools might not necessarily have. I love it.”

The old AML was split into the North (Sheffield, Port Allegany, Coudersport, Otto-Eldred, Smethport and Cameron County) and the South (Bradford, Kane, Curwensville, Brockway and Ridgway).

The South has held a significant advantage over the last decade in terms of win-loss record and average margin of victory against their northern counterparts, sans the dominant Port Allegany team in 2012 that advanced to the PIAA semifinals.

The KSAC, which was split into Large School (Clarion, Karns City, Moniteau, Punxsutawney, St. Marys) and Small School (Redbank Valley, Clarion-Limestone, Keystone, Moniteau), also had a chasm between its two divisions.

“We love it – it’s about time to be honest,” said Redbank Valley assistant coach Blane Gold. “Every single week it’s going to be a big game. Every single game is going to carry significant weight.”

The new divisions will look like this:

Large School: Bradford, Brockway, Brookville, Clarion, Kane, Karns City, Moniteau, Punxsutawney, St. Marys, Ridgway

Small School North: Cameron County, Coudersport, Otto-Eldred, Port Allegany, Sheffield, Smethport

Small School South: Clarion-Limestone, Curwensville, Elk County Catholic, Keystone, Redbank Valley, Union-A-C Valley

Each team in the Large School will play each other and each team in the Small School North and Small School South will play the teams in their own division, plus four crossover games.

And it’s not just the smaller schools in District 9 that are excited about it, the big boys are as well.

Bradford coach Jeff Puglio, in his 10th season at the helm of the Owls, has seen his team play in a District 10 region, before moving back to the AML and now the new D-9 Large School Division.

“The competition is going to be fierce each and every week,” he said. “Week one we’re at Brookville (which was tabbed as the Large School favorite in a voting of league coaches) and we’re excited about it. We got a taste of the postseason last year. Playing a team like Johnstown (in the state playoffs), we need to up our game. We need to play to that level week in, week out and this league is going to force us to do that.”

Of course, the new divisions will mean more travel for some schools, but that’s considered to be a very minor inconvenience at most.

“We’re not too concerned about the travel,” said Smethport coach Adam Jack, whose team was tabbed as the preseason favorite in the Small School North. “We’re excited about the opportunity to play new teams.”