High School Sports

How is the early start to the high school football season affecting local teams? Coaches weigh in

The results of an informal and unscientific poll of some of the Mountain League football coaches who gathered at Bald Eagle Area Wednesday revealed opinions on the early start of practice were as varied as those in Wednesday night’s Democratic debate.

Tyrone’s John Franco, who is back in the league after a several-year hiatus is blunt about it.

“I don’t like it,’’ he said,

BEA’s Jesse Nagle took the opposite stance.

“I like it,’’ he ventured.

Bellefonte’s Shannon Manning, Penns Valley’s Martin Tobias and Philipsburg-Osceola’s Brian McGonigal came down more on Nagle’s side of the fence.

Regardless of their preference, however, all have to deal with a season in which they will play two games before Labor Day. And they also lose one week of practice and one of two preseason scrimmages they had in years past.

Nagle’s stance stems in part from the fact that he has a talented, senior-laden team, which means he and his staff won’t have to spend as much time teaching in the preseason.

“We’re eager to get going,’’ he said. “We have a lot of seniors. Next year it’ll be different when we have a lot of inexperienced underclassmen.

“But we are losing that second scrimmage and that’s the one we used to really get after it and find out what kind of team we had. But we’ll try to make the most of it.’’

They have no option.

Theoretically, the reason for the new schedule is because the PIAA doesn’t want the postseason to bump up against Christmas.

Franco disagrees. And he’s speaking from experience since he guided three of his Tyrone teams to the state championship game —1995, 1999 and 2012 — and won a title in ‘99.

“I don’t think this new schedule is needed,’’ he said. “It doesn’t help. I think the PIAA and District 6 need to step up. They talk about the season being too long, that it bumps up against Christmas.

“I haven’t talked to one person who thinks the season is too long. I haven’t heard one person complain that a semifinal or championship game is too close to Christmas.

“And why penalize everyone for the few teams who make it to the championship? I’d like to see it go back to the way it was with two scrimmages and 10 games and keep the playoffs the way they were. And if a team doesn’t want to participate in the postseason, they don’t have to participate.’’

Penns Valley dipped its toe into the postseason waters a year ago, so Tobias has a better understanding of what it means to have an extended season

“I prefer having two scrimmages,’’ he said. “But I understand why they are doing it. It helps the playoffs.

“But it brings challenges. School won’t start until after the season starts. Plus it cuts down on the summer for the kids. A lot of our players have summer jobs, some of them lose vacations. ‘’

Manning is another coach with a team with playoff experience. But the early start brings challenges.

“It’s tough for us,’’ he said. “We’re going through a lot of transitions during that time. There are a lot of little pieces we have to work through.

“But I like the fact that it gives the kids who participate in winter sports some down time. In the fall we’re trying to get every mile out of them and in the winter those coaches are trying to get every mile out of them. There needs to be a buffer for the kids.’’

McGonigal’s Mounties are young and would benefit from that extra work and the second scrimmage.

“It’s tough because you have one scrimmage and then you’re right into game week. It doesn’t allow for a lot of practice time. And it forces coaches to do a lot of stuff during the summer.’’

A summer that has gotten shorter whether they like it or not.