Three conference teams won district titles, but, for the first time, none reached state.
By BILL ALBRIGHT
To the south are the "big boys" of District 7 in the WPIAL, while to the north lies their bigger brothers in the Erie area of District 10.
However, between the two bodies of large schools lies a number of small schools that makes an impact in high school football, at the district as well as the state level.
Since its inception some 18-20 years ago, the Mercer County Athletic Conference has established itself as a league to be reckoned with.
"For a league that is basically young, it holds its own," said Sharon coach Jim Wildman. "Whether they were originally WPIAL teams or from the Northwest Conference, over the past 20 years it has become a league that has a lot of teams rich in tradition who care about the product they put on the field."
As for familiarity, Sharpsville coach Paul Piccirilli said that wasn't a problem. They knew each other before the league was formed.
"The nice thing about it was that most of these schools played each other before the league started," said Piccirilli.
"I have always said that western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio schools play pretty good football. They play tough, solid-hitting football and it shows up every year in the playoffs."
Greyhounds: In Wilmington's case, the Greyhounds have only been a member of the conference for eight years, and coach Terry Verrelli was quick to point out the quality of the teams in the circuit.
"This will be our eighth year in the MCAC, but one thing is for sure, there are always good teams there," said Verrelli.
"Some teams are up and down from time to time, but Sharon is obviously good every year and they have always been.
"Other schools that had good teams in other years might be struggling a little bit, but they come back," he said. "We think it is a good league and we are happy to be a part of it."
A look at last year's results quickly substantiate the level of success from the 2000 campaign as Sharpsville (Class A), Sharon (AA) and Wilmington (AAA) combined to win three of the four District 10 titles at the end of the regular season.
Consider the facts that Wilmington returns a lot of skilled people, Sharon has a good nucleus to build around and Sharpsville only lost four seniors from last year's championship squad, and it is easy to see why championship hopes are there once again.
To take it one step further, if you take a look at the final matchups in the district tournament, you will find that five of the six finalists were from the prestigious MCAC.
Sharpsville defeated fellow MCAC foe Kennedy Christian 14-7 for its crown, Wilmington bested MCAC nemesis Greenville 16-7 for its title, while Sharon conquered the only non-MCAC squad, Girard, by a lopsided 35-0 margin.
No one at state: "It was really nice that we had three teams from the same conference win district titles and then go as far as the [PIAA] western finals," Wildman said. "It was not the first time that Mercer County was represented in the state playoffs since they began 10 years ago, but collectively it might have been the best overall showing and that has to be a motivational factor for other teams also."
Verrelli agreed with Wildman's assessment of history possibly repeating itself.
"Sharpsville is going to be a strong team once again this year," said Verrelli.
"Greenville is always tough, Sharon will be strong, and for the three teams to go as far as we did all coming from the same conference is pretty unusual. But there is always a possibility of it happening again."
While none of the three squads won a state title, all three did win at least a pair of contests in the state tournament before losing in the western finals.