Southern Columbia’s move opens door in Class A
The limb Muncy head football coach Jay Drumheller went out on during the District 4 media day wasn’t exactly a big one.
“Here’s a prediction I have: Southern Columbia will not win the Class A District 4 title this year,” he said with a laugh. “You can write that down.”
Most years that would have been a pretty bold prediction for Drumheller to make, considering the prolific success of the Tigers’ football program over the last two decades, but this year that prediction is a safe bet because the most dominant program in the history of District 4 Class A football is set to play its first season in Class AA.
Since 1984, when Jim Roth took over as head coach, Southern Columbia has posted a staggering 355-61-2 record, winning the District 4 Class A title 22 times. The team has also played in 13 state championship games since 1994, taking home six PIAA titles.
To say they have been a thorn in the side of local Class A teams trying to take home a district crown would be a huge understatement.
With Southern Columbia’s departure from the district’s single-A division, it has brought with it a newfound relief for area coaches who now feel their team has a much greater chance of taking home a district plaque.
One of those teams is Wellsboro, who had their best season in school history last year, when they went 10-1 and won the NTL Large School title. With a nice group returning this season, head coach Matt Hildebrand feels like his team now has a great shot at winning the district title with Southern Columbia out of the way.
“Obviously, they have been a dominant team forever and it definitely leaves some room open for other teams to make a name for themselves in Single-A,” Hildebrand said. “Our ultimate goal is to win the district, so that does open the door for us a little bit.”
Montgomery head coach Tom Persing shared that sentiment, saying that the road to a championship just got a whole lot easier.
“That is a big lift for the small schools around here,” Persing said. “The future is looking good.”
Persing also said that he thinks the change is something that is probably long overdue, and he might have a point, as Southern Columbia routinely surpasses teams like Muncy and Montgomery in male enrollment figures by more than 50 students.
“Southern Columbia, by all rights, is the best Class A team around,” Persing said. “But they probably should have been up in Double-A a long time ago.”
“I’m not saying they still wouldn’t have won all those championships, but they should have been playing the bigger schools and let the little schools play each other.”
To be fair, in previous years when the team was in the Class A division, the school enrolled around 170 male students, five below the cutoff for Class A teams. This year the school has 180 male students enrolled, forcing their bump to Class AA. The fact that Southern Columbia was able to stay in Class A football so long says more about the PIAA’s poor classification system, which allows only four divisions, instead of the five or six divisions most large states provide for football.
While Roth acknowledged that the change of divisions could have some influence on his team, he doesn’t expect it to be drastic.
“Realistically it doesn’t change much for us,” said Roth. “We play a predominately Double-A schedule as it is, so the move up doesn’t have much of an effect.”
He also said that he believes the Class AA football in District 4 is among the toughest in the state, which will provide its own challenges come district playoffs. One of the more drastic changes his team will have with the jump in classes will be getting accustomed to the three rounds of district playoffs instead of the two-round playoff bracket that they played in the Class A division.
The bigger challenge will be for district teams already in Class AA, that have had to deal with Southern’s dominance in the regular season, but haven’t had to deal with them on the field in a playoff scenario.
Over the last few decades, there have been many different teams that have had an opportunity to take home a district crown, which might all be about to change if Southern Columbia remains as powerful as it has over recent years.
With that being said, many Double-A teams in the district are playing it coy when it comes to talking about the challenges that might lie ahead with Southern in their division.
“We are excited about it,” Montoursville head coach J.C. Keefer said. “I don’t think it will affect us.
“When it comes to District 4 Class AA football, there are so many really good teams, so it’s always tough.”
Jim Smith, whose Troy Trojans are the defending District 4 Class AA champions, said that his team is welcoming the chance to take on Southern Columbia in the district playoffs.
“Certainly they are a perennial powerhouse and have been for 30 years,” Smith Said. “But it brings something new to the table and shines the spotlight on Double-A.
“We are a lot more worried about ourselves and being the best we can be. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Both Smith and Keefer agreed that Southern Columbia’s powerful presence in the district is something that has been built from the top down. They feel that Roth has done an unbelievable job of building a program that the kids buy in to year after year, which is something they are striving for with their respective teams.
“A team like that doesn’t rely on a great group of kids coming up through, and just winning with that group of kids,” Keefer said. “We want to build a program like that, too, so that it doesn’t matter what kids we have on the field, we know they will be solid players.”