Pennsylvania high school football power Southern Columbia in middle of controversy

The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader (TNS)

The highly anticipated Week 8 matchup between the state-ranked Wyoming Area and Southern Columbia football teams will not be played due to Southern Columbia being threatened with sanctions from the Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference for violation of a bylaw.

Southern Columbia is a member of the PHAC, which prohibits schools from dropping conference opponents to pick up non-conference opponents. Southern Columbia was scheduled to play fellow PHAC school Shikellamy on Friday, Oct. 11, but instead looked for a more competitive game. Shikellamy is 1-5 and has lost 14 of its last 16 games.

“The Heartland Conference sanctions being put on Southern Columbia were just excessive,” said Wyoming Area athletic director Joe Pizano, who is also an assistant football coach.

Pizano declined to reveal what the sanctions against the Tigers might have been had the game been played.

Southern Columbia coach/athletic director Jim Roth initially contacted Wyoming Area, which was scheduled to play Holy Redeemer. Redeemer has lost 15 in a row and has scored three touchdowns all season. The schools agreed to play, with Shikellamy and Redeemer agreeing to play each other.

All four schools received permission from District 2 (Wyoming Area and Redeemer’s district) and District 4 (Southern Columbia and Shikellamy’s district) to make the schedule switches.

However, the PHAC wasn’t informed and decided Wednesday to impose sanctions on Southern Columbia if it played Wyoming Area. The PHAC did allow Southern Columbia to drop conference school Bloomsburg this season to allow the Tigers to play a South Carolina state champion on ESPN.

Wyoming Area was expecting one of its largest crowds ever for Southern Columbia, which is a nine-time PIAA state champion and features four Division I recruits. Wide receiver Julian Fleming has committed to Ohio State and is the No. 3 recruit in the country according to Michigan-bound running back Gaige Garcia is the state’s all-time touchdown leader.

“Everybody is super disappointed,” Pizano said. “This goes beyond the football team.”

Pizano said school officials have met with law enforcement, local restaurants and others to make sure the Southern Columbia game went on without a hitch. He also said the cancellation affects the clubs that run food stands at the stadium. They had placed orders for extra food for the game. He added PNC Field in Moosic offered its stadium for the game.

Wyoming Area was also securing the use of a parking lot of a nearby business and was going to use shuttle buses to take fans from the high school to the stadium, which are a few large blocks apart.

“It was just not one thing, it was eight million,” Pizano said.

Wyoming Area (6-0) is ranked fourth in the state in Class 3A. The Warriors have outscored their opponents 256-63. Redeemer is 0-5 and had been outscored 207-21. Wyoming Area was ahead 30-0 nine minutes into last year’s matchup when coach Randy Spencer pulled his starters. The Warriors went on to win 43-7.

Southern Columbia (6-0) is the top-ranked team in Class 2A and has outscored its opponents 360-6. Shikellamy (1-5) picked up its first victory of the season last Friday against winless Central Mountain. Southern Columbia defeated Shikellamy 69-7 last year. The Tigers have won a state-record 76 consecutive regular-season games.