Thursday March 31, 2022 | 6:06 p.m.
Philadelphia teams joined the PIAA basketball playoffs less than two decades ago, and District 12’s top administrator says its schools are here to stay, despite opponents’ wishful thinking.
Over the years, some Philadelphia coaches and players felt the state tournament did not match their enthusiasm for winning a Philadelphia Catholic or Public League title, leading to speculation that teams from Philly might prefer life without the PIAA playoffs.
“No, that’s not true,” District 12 President Michael Hawkins said Saturday at the Giant Center, while watching the teams of Roman Catholic Philadelphia and Archbishop Wood face off in the boys’ final of class 6A.
“We are working hard to get where we are,” he said. “The people who say that are not the sports directors. It’s not the coaches. … We’re in. We’re here forever, as far as I’m concerned.
Philadelphia Public Schools joined the PIAA in 2004, shortly after the school district hired a new superintendent. Their counterparts from the Catholic school joined them four years later.
In the years that followed, Philadelphia schools dominated the PIAA basketball playoffs. District 12 teams have won 52 of the 156 state titles awarded since joining. Last weekend in Hershey, District 12 schools won seven of 12.
This overwhelming success and the belief by some that Philadelphia schools do not enforce PIAA transfer rules has made it a target of criticism. PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said the criticism was misplaced.
“The people of District 12 work very, very hard,” Lombardi said. “You see, some of their programs are really good. But if you’ve seen how they have to travel to practice and some of their facilities compared to some of our other schools, it’s not even close. They work very hard at it, and they should be complimented instead of criticized.
Suggestions that Philadelphia teams don’t want to make the state playoffs are “absolutely wrong,” said Lombardi, who also defended the district’s current approach to transfers.
The topic came up again Thursday after Neumann-Goretti won the Class 4A boys’ title for the team’s ninth state championship. Longtime Saints manager Carl Arrigale said in response to criticism: “I coached 15 or 18 year olds without it, and we were fine.”
“Our (Catholic League) game at the Palestra, nothing beats that with 9,000 people at a high school game screaming and screaming,” he added. “It’s a good atmosphere, so (getting players focused for the PIAA playoffs) is actually tough. Much harder than people think.
Neumann-Goretti has improved to 9-0 in state championship games — all since 2010. Arrigale also has 12 Philadelphia Catholic League titles, which ranks as the most for a coach.
This year, the Saints beat Archbishop Ryan, 61-57, in the Philadelphia Catholic League final. The Philadelphia Public League plays its championship game at Temple Liacouras Center.
“It’s a lot harder than people think to get these kids to keep training,” Arrigale said, “and to convince them that Quaker Valley was a good team and Dallas was a good team. , when they just went through this pressure cooker (PCL). .
The most commonly heard criticism of Philadelphia schools is the belief that administrators don’t crack down when players change schools. Neumann-Goretti, for example, has a 6-foot-7 junior from London, England, who played basketball last year at Saint Louis.
Aliquippa boys coach Nick Lackovich noted after Saturday’s loss to Philadelphia Catholic League team Devon Prep that his players were all from neighborhoods close to the school and described Philadelphia as “free agency”.
“A kid is at this school this year, that one next year, and that one in third year,” Lackovich said. “Let’s clean this up. Sometimes I think the WPIAL holds us back because obviously the eastern half of the state that doesn’t have to deal with the WPIAL seems to work pretty well for them.
“I’m not saying we have to get rid of the WPIAL, but they want to enforce the rules and the other half don’t.”
Lombardi said that was not true.
In addition to restrictions against sports-motivated transfers, the PIAA has in recent years added a rule that makes most transfers ineligible for post-season competition for one year.
Lombardi disagreed with the idea that two districts, such as the WPIAL and District 12, approach these transfer rules differently.
“It was a story from a long time ago by some people who really didn’t understand the rules,” he said. “They felt they were doing it right and everyone was doing it wrong. This is no longer true.
Hawkins highlighted the actions taken by District 12 this month against Cardinal O’Hara and Bonner-Prendergast. When the district discovered the teams were using an ineligible player, they were forced to forfeit retroactively.
The Bonner-Prendie boys missed the PIAA playoffs. The O’Hara girls qualified for the States despite forfeiting and won the Class 5A title over Chartiers Valley.
“We dropped the hammer on them right away,” Hawkins said, but understood not everyone in the state would be convinced.
“For some people, what we say doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “The haters are going to hate. That’s what they do.