Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Oct. 8, 2015 — What PIAA reclassification means vs. what it should have meant

Yesterday, the most influential state in American field hockey altered the way it chooses its state champions.

In a vote yesterday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association voted to add classifications to most of its championships, including everything from football to baseball to soccer to softball.

Pennsylvania’s field hockey championships, beginning in a couple of years, will now have three classifications instead of two under the PIAA umbrella.

This has plenty of ramifications, especially for smaller districts in the state which will have only a handful of teams playing into the state bracket; I think it is going to make some district qualification criteria difficult to hammer out when you have only a couple of teams from one district having to combine with another district to form a region; similar to what happens annually with Pittsburgh Allardice (Pa.) and Waterfall Forbes Road (Pa.), who are the only field hockey schools in their respective districts.

So, now that there are going to be three tournaments, where exactly do you draw the enrollment line? You want to have about 94 teams in each classification so that the pool of 281 PIAA members is split relatively evenly.

If you take the list published on the PIAA website, and take the lowest 95 schools for enrollment in the AA classification, you can take any and every school with fewer than 300 female students enrolled. Add the three AAA schools with fewer than 300 female students (York Country Day School, South Philadelphia, West Philadelphia), and you get a total of 98 schools for our proposed new Class AA.

The two schools that stand out in the new AA classification (should the cutoff be 300) are Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) and Oley (Pa.) Valley. But what also stands out is a pretty sizable split amongst the schools in the Wyoming Valley Conference. Should the cutoff be at 300 female students, this would mean that Wyoming Seminary, Lehman Lake-Lehman (Pa.), Wilkes-Barre Holy Redeemer (Pa.), and Exeter Wyoming Area (Pa.) would be in the new Class AA — and away from Mountain Top Crestwood (Pa.), which would be a level above.

But more on Class AAA in a moment. Let’s go to the opposite end of the enrollment spectrum. In building the new Class AAAA for the largest schools, it is easy to take the largest 98 schools and have the cutoff number be exactly 500 students. The thing is, there is a cluster of schools near the 500-student mark. But for one or two students moving away or opting for a private school option, schools like Ephrata (Pa.) or Malvern Great Valley (Pa.) could be in completely different divisions from cycle to cycle.

And this is incredibly important, since I think the proposed Class AAA would be the most powerful by far. If you look at the 85 PIAA-member schools which are reported to have between 300 and 500 female students, you have Kennett Square Unionville (Pa.), Mountain Top Crestwood (Pa.), Flourtown Mount St. Joseph Academy (Pa.), Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.), Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.), Palmyra (Pa.), and Selinsgrove (Pa.). That’s a veritable Murderer’s Row of field hockey teams that could all be drawn into the same state tournament bracket to end the season.

Now, the highest classification (which we’re calling Class AAAA) would be led by Emmaus (Pa.), Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.), Landisville Hempfield (Pa.), Ambler Wissahickon (Pa.), Fairview Village Methacton (Pa.), and Plymouth Wyoming Valley West (Pa.), all of whom have either won or been really close to winning the state title the last decade and a half.

While all of this unfolds, the Pennsylvania of Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) will continue to hold a single-bracket state tournament for its group of independent, parochial, and preparatory schools in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League, the Friends School League, and the Inter-Ac Conference.

And herein lies a problem. Currently, the PIAA does not hold separate competitions for non-public schools. I did a back-of-the-envelope experiment yesterday and found that it is possible for the PIAA to have a fourth non-public division if it would partner with the PAISAA to fill a bracket using the roughly 70 prep, charter, Quaker, Christian, Roman Catholic, and Mennonite schools in the state that have the sport.

It would have to take a sea change in thinking for this to happen at the administrative level. But that’s no match for the sea change in the level of competition that has happened in the last three or four seasons. The movement of soccer into the fall has brought down the level of field hockey of the average public school in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and you are finding a better level of player coming from the Inter-Ac Conference. The level of talent coming into U.S. colleges from the likes of Episcopal Academy, Agnes Irwin, and Academy of Notre Dame de Namur has borne that out thus far.

Plus, when you look at recent U.S. women’s national team history, there’s a roughly even split between Pennsylvanians coming from private schools as opposed to those coming from public schools. And, it’s likely that, when the Olympic women’s roster is named sometime next year, a quarter of the team will come from private-school teams with PIAA membership.

Perhaps it’s time to at least think about a PIAA non-public division; it would make a Tournament of Champions much more likely, don’t you think?


  Alicia Fayn wrote @

The problem with the PAISAA being included in the PIAA is that they recruit – blatantly at times. The opportunities to attract the best players that money can buy are not at all equitable. (It is enlightening that Eastern is another school that is free to recruit players and it shows.) Until the playing field is leveled, let PAISAA continue to allow recruiting among their members and leave them to their own championship.

  Al Mattei wrote @

There have been accusations of the same regarding the private schools within the PIAA. Think of it: Wyoming Seminary is a boarding school and has had some pretty good players from Germany in the recent past.

As for Eastern: it does not “recruit.” Parents are allowed to pay tuition under New Jersey law, which allows school districts to admit non-resident students through policies adopted by local school boards.

This is going to be an issue going forward as “No Child Left Behind” is being redone. There are many different ways that a family can re-assign their kid into a different school environment — homeschooling, magnet school, public charter school, No Child Left Behind, paying tuition, or sending to a private/prep/parochial school.

Let’s face it; these choices are going to be greater problems for state governing bodies than the so-called “super preps.”

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