The Williamsport High School gym was supposed to be rocking Saturday night. St. John Neumann and Loyalsock were supposed to be playing a game thousands of area fans have anticipated since opening night.
Saturday night was supposed to be a celebration, a reminder about why high school sports are so great. But the Williamsport gym was empty and dark. No games were played. Athletes, coaches and fans were left upset, confused and disappointed.
The Pennsylvania Heartland Conference championships were postponed Saturday less than four hours before the Mount Carmel and Warrior Run girls were supposed to start a double header that featured St. John Neumann and Loyalsock playing later in the game of the District 4 season thus far. They were postponed to Monday at smaller Montoursville with the same start times of 6 and 7:30, as Williamsport has a scheduling conflict that night with the Harlem Wizards touring basketball team. The boys game could have been salvaged, but a stupid PHAC rule prevented it.
The craziness started at 2:14 p.m. when District 4 chairman Chris Venna sent an email alert to media members, saying the games were still on. That was not surprising as it had stopped snowing more than an hour ago and roads already were clearing up. Twelve minutes later, however, another email was sent out saying the games had been postponed because Mount Carmel superintendent Bernard Stellar said he would not let Mount Carmel come.
There were reports that plows broke in Mount Carmel, although smaller trucks were being used. However, Mount Carmel wrestlers did go to Mifflinburg for District 4 sectionals in the morning.
The PHAC had two choices at this point. Because districts open Tuesday they could have told Stellar they respected his decision because it was made in the name of safety, but that the games must go on. Either play or forfeit as painful as that might have been.
I understand, however, not wanting to penalize a team because of iffy weather. That is why Option 2 made so much sense. Play Mount Carmel and Warrior Run Monday at Montoursville and let the Loyalsock and Neumann boys play their regularly scheduled game at 7:30.
Why should two teams less than five miles from the high school be punished and not allowed to play because of one man's decision? And with all due respect to the girls teams, it's not like the PHAC needed them to fill the gym last night. By itself the boys game would have sold out before tip-off even in the district's largest gym. There was no logical explanation for postponing the boys game because, honestly, Williamsport is the only venue that can hold the huge crowd that will attend this game.
And yet the HAC tried making one. The boys game could not be played because the HAC has a rule saying both the girls and boys championships have to be played on the same night at the same venue. No, seriously, I'm not kidding. That is really why Loyalsock and Neumann could not play last night. Stop laughing, this is a true story. Two schools within near walking distance of the gym could not play because of a situation more than 60 miles away. Talk about ridiculous.
The ironic part is Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said the main objective of the tournament is to generate money to improve the league and District 4. So why in the world would the PHAC ever consider moving last night's game when it would have been a revenue bonanza? Taking the game from Williamsport Saturday when more people are free and moving it to smaller Montoursville on a Monday night literally cost the PHAC thousands of dollars.
It should not be shocking this happened, however. This tournament has been poorly organized and run since it started last year. It is so dysfunctional that Neumann coach Paul Petcavage did not even know who his team was playing in the semifinals until informed by a reporter following Wednesday's game against Muncy.
The public did not even know who would be competing in the tournament until Thursday since wild card berths remained up for grabs and boys and girls participants were playing multiple league games right up to Friday. Heck, had Lewisburg beaten Neumann Friday it was scheduled to play Warrior Run Saturday at 11 a.m. in a makeup conference before having to play in the final eight hours later. Loyalsock played three straight league games from Monday-Wednesday and had Neumann not clinched the HAC-III title last Saturday it might have been until Wednesday that people knew what division team would be playing Friday.
And the girls tournament already was made a mockery. The conference's only undefeated team Millville opted out. Who holds a tournament where a Division champion does not even participate? Grow a backbone and do not let one school dictate how you run the tournament.
It seems chaos, confusion and strange decisions define these tournaments so far. The tournament is a great concept and generates matchups like Neumann-Lewisburg that otherwise fans likely would not see. But in terms of organization and decision-making this tournament needs an overhaul. Better yet, it needs different people making the decisions.
The games will go on Monday at Montoursville and it will be fun. But Neumann-Loyalsock will not be the same. More than a thousand fans who could have watched this showdown last night will be unable to do so now. As nice as a gym as Montoursville is, it does not have the mystique Williamsport does. Williamsport is hallowed ground, the Boston Garden of District 4. It is where legends were born and banners can be seen everywhere.
Williamsport was the perfect place to play Neumann vs. Loyalsock. The kids talked about how great it was to have that chance Friday night. Then it was pulled from them, a cruel dagger stuck in their hearts just hours before they were scheduled to play.
The PHAC should have understood how big this was. They have a rule, but some rules are meant to be broken-especially when they are as dumb as this one.
The players wanted these games, they wanted this venue. They practice all year for moments like the one Saturday offered. The PHAC should have stood by the players, not a silly rule. Once again, it seems the athletes were the last ones considered.
Come on, PHAC, get your act together. Then go and offer Neumann and Loyalsock players a public apology because what did not happen last night is a disgrace.