Conference call

The 2017 Blue Devils. Photo: Harrison Lilley

The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League’s (WPIAL) largest football classification will have a much different look over the next two years. Since the move to six classifications in 2016, many schools have played in conferences with fewer teams and longer travel times. Every two years, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) realigns the classifications in all of its sports based on updated enrollment numbers. Each fall, the school districts submit enrollment numbers—the number of 9th to 11th grade boys or girls, based on the type of sport. The PIAA then creates the classifications with an approximate equal distribution of schools across the six classes, so that the 6A schools are the top 1/6th in enrollment statewide. For this cycle, the PIAA drew the line at an enrollment number of 560 students. All schools with 561 or more 9th to 11th grade boys will compete in Class 6A. Mt. Lebanon had enrollment of 651 9th to 11th grade boys, the fifth largest number in the WPIAL.

Because the classifications are determined on a statewide basis, the top classification tends to be weighted towards the larger school districts around Philadelphia. For the 2018-2019 alignment cycle, 63 of the 94 schools in Class 6A are from southeastern Pennsylvania. In the WPIAL, five schools that played in Class 6A over the last two years will compete elsewhere over the next two years. Altoona, which is geographically located in District 6 but played in the WPIAL under a cooperative agreement, will be returning to District 6 competition in 2018. Due to the new enrollment cutoff, Bethel Park, Penn Hills, Peters and Shaler will compete in 5A this year after previously playing in 6A.

For the last two years, the 6A classification had 14 teams. With the loss of five schools, only nine teams will play in 6A for 2018. In January, the WPIAL released its new alignments for the 2018 season which grouped all nine 6A teams into one conference. All nine 6A teams will face each other during the nine-week WPIAL regular season with the top six making the playoffs. Since the number of teams is uneven, one 6A team will face a 5A team each week in a non-classification game that will not count towards the overall standings. For Mt. Lebanon, this game will reignite an old rivalry when the Blue Devils take on Upper St. Clair October 5.

The Blue Devils will have a challenging conference schedule that includes road games against Pine-Richland (October 12) and Central Catholic (October 26), along with a home game against North Allegheny (September 21). Pine-Richland is the defending 6A state champion. Central Catholic has reached the WPIAL championship game in each of the last five years. North Allegheny knocked the Blue Devils out of the playoffs last year.

Mt. Lebanon also has home games against Canon-McMillan (August 31) and Norwin (October 19) The Blue Devils will have a conference road game at Butler (September 7), Seneca Valley (September 14) and Hempfield (September 28). The schedule also features two home games against teams that play in Class 5A, an August 24 preseason game against defending 5A champions Gateway and the aforementioned showdown with Upper St. Clair. Mt. Lebanon has reached the playoffs in four straight seasons—and in nine of the last 10 years.

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