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“Mr. High School Sports” – Once More, from the Top

Clairton and Southern Columbia helmets

(Images courtesy of The Pennsylvania Helmet Project)

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

It might not have the same panache as Ali-Frazier, but one possible rematch on Clairton’s 2012 football schedule could be just as hard-hitting and fun to watch.

Last Friday the Bears defeated Southern Columbia at Hersheypark Stadium for their historic third straight PIAA Class A title and 47th win in a row, ending the 2011 season with the longest active winning streak in the country. Rumor has it the 20-time District 4 champs now want to collaborate with Clairton on a home-and-home series.

If it happens, it would likely be the season opener for both, and it sounds like this might come to fruition. According to the Post-Gazette’s Mike White, head coach Tom Nola is amenable to taking his team on the long bus ride out to Columbia County, especially considering the program still hasn’t found a willing opponent for its 2012 lid-lifter.

White reports Clairton would also be willing to play either a Triple-A or Quad-A team from the WPIAL, and as neat as that would be, I like this idea much, much better.

To play two or even three classifications up for just one game would entertain much of my curiosity about how great Clairton really is, but the political reality is, I doubt the WPIAL would ever agree to that. It would be more practical for the program to think outside the box.

Furthermore, one of my favorite moments of the 2011 season was the Gateway Kickoff Classic on Labor Day weekend. A similar event the previous season, the “Rally at the Wolvarena,” was staged, in which four WPIAL teams each played a highly-touted out-of-state opponent. I liked Gateway’s event better, because, again, it was more practical.

Teams from this region aren’t going to get much from an apples-and-oranges matchup with teams from Ohio and/or Florida, because, in recent years, the disparity in talent there and talent here has been greater than before. Great teams from different parts of Pennsylvania playing against one another is a much more accurate litmus test for all parties involved.

Plus, the turnout at Antimarino Stadium was still strong, despite the miserable weather at the time, and the WPIAL got more positive national exposure, because its representatives stood a more realistic chance of winning (and did). A rematch between Southern Columbia and Clairton, two of the state’s greatest high school football dynasties, would be a potential cash cow and worth the attention of the Four-Letter Network.

With all due respect, who, as a fan of scholastic sports, wants to see Clairton beat up on some middle-of-the-road Class AA team again? From the point of view of a mass audience, it’s boring, and again, where are the dollar signs? Instead, let’s rectify the complaints–including the internal ones–of those who say Clairton “doesn’t play anybody” during the regular season.

So kudos to both programs for pursuing this, and I advise them both to make it happen. Keeping that win streak going won’t be easy for Clairton, especially if it plays at Southern Columbia after graduating ten seniors from a 2011 squad that had less than 40 kids in all. But the Bears have nothing more to prove. At this point, it’s much more important for those kids to play a game from which they can grow and get better.

(Wow, imagine that…Clairton being better…)

Some are speculating the forthcoming football season might be Nola’s last at Clairton. The 2011 campaign just ended, so it’s presumptuous to think too hard about 2012 yet. Still, whether or not Nola ends his career with a bang, wouldn’t it be nice if the Bears started the season with one?

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)