A bigger stage for PCL

Posted: August 29, 2008

Unless something goes drastically wrong, St. Joseph's Prep will cherish the weekend of Nov. 21.

That's when we expect the Hawks to win the PIAA District 12 Class AAAA championship game.

Don't be surprised if St. Joe's Prep quarterback Mark Giubilato embraces fans who charge onto the field. His teammates will probably hoist the championship trophy, while longtime coach Gil Brooks takes it all in.

It will be an historic occasion.

The much-anticipated victory will advance the Hawks into the state playoffs in the Catholic League's first year as full-time PIAA members.

However, it will be at least six seasons too late.

Six years ago, however, the Catholic League wasn't interested in joining the PIAA. At the time, the league didn't want to lose its strong identity or autonomy.

The league's athletic directors often wondered how their teams would fare in the PIAA playoffs. But a Catholic League championship was enough for them.

"What we have is a unique league," Archbishop Ryan athletic director George Todt said in 2002. "We're not only a league, but we're a Catholic League, and we're an institution.

"Playing for a Catholic League championship has been what our traditions [are] about. I don't think we're lacking anything or missing anything."

Oh really?

At the time, St. Joseph's Prep missed out on an opportunity to prove on the field that it was the state's premier program.

The Hawks capped a 13-0 season by winning the PCL Red Division title in 2002. They were ranked 15th in the final USA Today Super 25 national rankings.

Parkland (14-1), which won that season's Class AAAA state title, finished 11th in USA Today's national rankings.

We'll never really know which team was better, since the Catholic League didn't participate in the state playoffs. Nor will we be able to know if the Prep was better than North Penn a year later.

The Knights went 15-0 en route to winning that season's PIAA Class AAAA state crown. They were ranked second in Southeastern Pennsylvania by The Inquirer and eighth nationally by USA Today.

The Hawks finished 12-0, while winning another division crown. They were ranked first by The Inquirer and third nationally by USA Today.

At the time, however, Rivals.com had North Penn ranked No. 1 in the East and the Prep fifth.

If the Hawks were in the PIAA at the time, a state semifinal matchup between the area powers could have been a classic.

But we will never know.

"It wasn't a reality at the time," Brooks said of his team's not being to participate in a state playoff. "I wasn't going to be disappointed about something I couldn't control or that wasn't a possibility."

Now that it's a reality, the Hawks can finally put an end to the questions.

"I give [PIAA executive director] Brad Cashman and the PIAA folks a lot of credit," Brooks said. "What they are doing through our playoff system as a state, we are crowning real state champions. And that is tough thing to do for a state our size."

It should have been done a long time ago.

Post a question or a comment for staff writer Keith Pompey

at http:/go.philly.com/askkeith.

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