HERSHEY — A “down year’’ for high school boys’ basketball in mighty Philadelphia?
The argument could be made, based on this weekend’s PIAA state finals. It could also be countered, and we’ll get to that in a minute.
The eye-openers in this regard came Friday, when Archbishop Ryan, arguably the third-best club in the monstrous Philly Catholic league, took a 20-point beating from seven-loss Erie Cathedral Prep for the Class 4A title.
Earlier that day, undefeated Sacred Heart, of Coraopolis, in the western suburbs of Pittsburgh, beat perennial Philly Public-League small-school power Constitution 62-49 for the 2A championship.
Loyalsock, which won the 3A title Saturday, took out another Public League small-school beast Math, Civics & Sciences 83-70 in the semifinals last week.
Note the scores. It’s not like teams were slowing or shortening or mucking up these games. Obviously, the Philly reputation isn’t scaring anybody. The results have been emphatic and decisive.
Now, the counter:
Archbishop Wood, which played Reading for the 6A title after this was written, could still be the best team in the state, regardless of class.
Other brand names simply weren’t a factor this year for reasons that aren’t completely qualitative. Roman Catholic lost to Wood for the Catholic League title in a year when, due to the pandemic, that loss eliminated Roman from a truncated state tournament.
Neumann-Goretti had to forfeit five games due to an ineligible player, and thus finished the year with a losing record. Imhotep Charter, which won the Public League title, had a COVID-19 shutdown during the District 12 playoffs.
The PIAA’s competition formula, which compels teams to move up a class due to postseason success points plus transfers, has put Wood and Roman, for example, in the same class.
This process, over the years, could force teams that have a class kind of to themselves — Neumann-Goretti in 3A, Imhotep in 4A, Wood in 5A, etc. — to have to beat each other to get to Hershey.
The irony is that that kind of Catholic League dominance did happen this year in girls’ hoops, in which state titles were won by Cardinal O’Hara in 5A, Archbishop Wood in 4A and West Catholic in 3A.
COVID-19, continued: It looked for a time last week as if the 2A boys’ final, Sacred Heart vs. Constitution, might not be played. The issue was a positive COVID-19 test of a player on Old Forge, which Constitution beat in Tuesday’s semifinals.
The problem solved itself when every Constitution player tested negative Thursday, but not before PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi had a tense phone conversation with the Philadelphia mayor’s office, which suggested, apparently seriously, that the game should be postponed for two weeks.
Empty spaces: Sadly, the atmosphere in the Giant Center was less than electric for most of the weekend. The arena’s 9,000-plus seats were mostly empty due to state government-mandated capacity limits.
Lombardi said each competing school received 650 tickets. They could return unsold tickets the day before the game, which could then be purchased by the public online.
If they were all used, that would have gotten the event right up against the 15% occupancy limit mandated by the state Dept. of Health.
It did not appear that the limit was threatened all weekend, although the Reading-Archbishop Wood late-game Saturday might have been an exception, given nearby Reading’s large fan base.
Mask mania: In February, the PIAA adopted a form schools could fill out to allow athletes to be exempt from mask-wearing if they “qualify for an individual medical exemption, specific to their health condition ...”
There appeared to be a tremendous number of such exemptions this weekend, especially in kids from the Western half of the state. Class 1A finalist Berlin Brothersvalley, 4A finalist Hickory and 3A finalist Brookville were all completely maskless.
“Each school did an individual assessment with their players and their families,’’ Lombardi said. “If they wanted an exception because this was troublesome, they could take it.’’
A season like no other, exhibit Z: Two of the state’s most perennial basketball powers, Reading and Chester, played each other Saturday — in football.
Boundary scoreboard: Heading into Saturday night’s 6A boys’ final, non-boundary (private and charter) schools had won eight of possible 11 state championships.
All the boundary (public non-charter) schools that won titles faced other boundary schools in their finals.
Draw your own conclusions.