By: Rich Flanagan
Photos: Kathy Leister , Videos: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA –In a stunning move Thursday, three members of the Philadelphia Catholic League announced they will be moving forward with fall sports and believe they have a plan to do so.
St. Joseph’s Prep, La Salle College High School and Devon Prep, “agreed to play a modified Fall 2020 Catholic League schedule and will include non-league competition with fellow all-boys independent Catholic school, Holy Ghost Prep,” per the school’s joint press release.
After the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced on August 24 that fall sports were canceled and the focus turned to possibly playing them in the spring, each of the three schools began having “hypothetical conversations,” according to St. Joe’s Prep athletic director Dan DiBerardinis, about how to play this fall.
He noted that, while each school was “caught off guard” by the archdiocese’s decision, the Hawks’ athletic programs had “delayed dates and schedules worked out,” they wanted to make this happen and explored the best plan available to them.
“Each school was formulating its own plan and we realized we needed to do it as safe as possible,” DiBerardinis said. “We wanted to give these kids a season but it’s only as safe as possible with a closed network of schools. We didn’t want to travel much and we want to keep it in this general area. We reached out to other schools and Holy Ghost was very interested in being a part of our scheduling.”
St. Joe’s Prep, La Salle and Devon Prep will be the sole members of the Philadelphia Catholic League this fall season. Holy Ghost Prep is not joining the league but is instead a nonleague opponent. The four programs will move forward with cross country, golf and soccer. The Explorers defeated Roman Catholic in the boys’ soccer title game last season to win their third league crown in four years. Football in the works but there’s still more that needs to be sorted out before that officially becomes a reality.
Each of the four programs will play each other twice with the possibility of adding nonleague contests against opponents from the Suburban One League or schools in close proximity.
A number of schools districts have also chosen to move forward with fall sports such as North Penn School District, Bensalem School Board, Council Rock School District, Central Bucks School District, Wilson School Board, Souderton Area School District, Upper Perkiomen School District, Mercer Area School District, the Allentown School District and Abington School District.
Jason Fisher, Devon Prep’s athletic director, concurred with DiBerardinis that the “we were not aware of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s decision until the day it was made. Up until that point, we were all planning to participate in the Philadelphia Catholic League with all of the other schools.”
Still, he’s excited that Devon Prep’s programs will get an opportunity to compete and noted the schedules will look like a local Philadelphia staple.
“The rest of the schedules are made up by the individual schools,” Fisher said. “Schools are free to play as many or as few games as possible. Holy Ghost is not part of the PCL. The structure of this is obviously still evolving but the framework of this will be similar to the Big 5. We play each other in ‘nonleague’ contests but are tied together in this “Big Five” concept. Similar to how Villanova, in the Big East, plays St. Joe’s, in the A-10.”
All of this became a realistic possibility because St. Joe’s Prep, La Salle and Devon Prep are part of the Philadelphia Catholic League but not the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“The AOP has no official jurisdiction over the Philadelphia Catholic League nor does it govern Devon Prep, Holy Ghost Prep, La Salle College High School, or St. Joseph’s Prep. All four schools are independent Catholic schools under the authority of individual governing bodies,” per release.
Holy Ghost Prep decided to become an independent for the upcoming year and beyond. They had previously been a part of the Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL) but will still be eligible for Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) district and state competition. The Firebirds have reached the PIAA District 1 Class 3A boys soccer title game in three of the last four seasons.
There will be no formal league playoffs but the three Philadelphia Catholic League schools will be eligible for the District 12 game by classification. For example, La Salle and St. Joe’s Prep are in Class 4A for soccer while Devon Prep is in 2A. Therefore, each program will be eligible for the PIAA state playoffs. Golf and cross country schedules appear to be set but there are still at least two openings for soccer.
DiBerardinis stressed that “we’re hoping to do an eight-game soccer season. We can do a round robin in golf and cross country to get enough matches and meets in between our four schools.”
Football remains the biggest mystery of all fall sports. Over the last decade, the Philadelphia Catholic League has established itself as a perennial powerhouse on the gridiron.
Last season, St. Joe’s Prep and Archbishop Wood claimed the PIAA 6A and 5A title, respectively. The Hawks have won two straight state titles and five since 2013. The Vikings will not get the opportunity to defend their title. The Explorers won a state title in 2009 and haven’t played in one since 2010.
The Hawks program boasts a loaded roster, which includes quarterback Kyle McCord and wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., both Ohio State commits, and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., a Clemson commit. McCord threw for 2,399 yards and 31 touchdowns in 10 games. He injured his leg in the Philadelphia Catholic League final against the Explorers and missed the state title run. Harrison, son of the Pro Football Hall of Famer, had 47 catches for 1,033 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. Trotter had three sacks last year and is one of the best open field tacklers in the state.
The Explorers have junior running back Sam Brown, who tallied 1,170 scrimmage yards and 18 total touchdowns (11 rush, seven receiving). Brown holds offers from Arizona State, Michigan State, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas A&M and West Virginia, among others.
Schedules are an obvious issue but figuring out how to keep players, coaches and all involved healthy is the focal topic on everyone’s mind at this point. DiBerardinis states that safety is paramount to accomplish this.
“We’re trying to do it as safely as possible,” DiBerardinis said. “Football has the most contact and logistically we’re just trying to work out the kinks. We’re not trying to rush into anything. We’re hoping to make this work but we won’t rush into it.”
While golf, cross country and soccer will be played and football is up in the air, fall rowing competitions remain canceled. Still, if each school competes in the fall, they will be ineligible in the spring when all the members of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia expect to complete.
The underlying sentiment felt by all four schools was the hope of giving players, and more importantly the seniors, one final season. As the release stated, “this might be the final season for many students to represent their schools, earn a varsity letter, have a Senior Day celebration, and be a part of a competitive team.”
Fisher expressed how crucial it was for each school to find a way to have a fall season.
“Sports play a vital role in the lives of our student-athletes,” Fisher said. “Not just from a physical standpoint but also from a social and emotional perspective. When the PIAA decided to move forward with sports, we wanted to do everything in our power to be able to provide the opportunity for our student-athletes to safely participate in sports.”
DiBerardinis agreed with the need to have fall sports and he didn’t feel waiting till the spring was the better option.
“I wanted to make sure that these kids who have worked for so long get a film, potentially get a scholarship, or have these memories of their senior year,” DiBerardinis said. “Who knows what’s going to happen in the spring. Everything is constantly changing daily and right now we feel we can do it.”