ACAA disorganization burns local team

Christians, it is famously said, are all about forgiveness rather than perfection.

That’s something that a lot of the folks in the Allegheny Christian Athletic Association will have to keep in mind at the organization’s next meeting, which will most certainly include a rehash of the debacle that this year’s ACAA boys basketball tournament became, especially for one local school.

For all the foibles and failures of the PIAA, the 34-year-old organization that offers an athletic alternative for small parochial schools this week made itself look bad, and created a situation of unfairness that would never be tolerated in the larger public school system.

The story, which came out in dribbles and bits over the course of several days, began with the suspension of five players from the Cambria County Christian boys basketball team – for the season, based on reports from Johnstown media. Despite the suspensions, the school ended up third in the West Division of the league, and thus qualified for the tournament, which began Thursday.

But, without the players – including at least one notable starter – the Cambria County athletic staff felt the team should not be in the tournament, and withdrew.

Meanwhile, in the East Division, Juniata Mennonite and Northumberland Christian ended the season in a tie for third place; since the two cleared tiebreakers, the normal procedure would have been a play-in game – not unlike the one the Juniata Mennonite girls had Wednesday – but since the western team was out, league officials decided to have the tied teams in the east each enter the tournament, with a coin toss to determine who played where.

As a result of that, Tuesday’s regular-season finale between Meadowbrook – which had clinched the top seed – and Juniata Mennonite was a somewhat lackluster game, as both teams were more concerned with the tournament. That’s important to note – had the Lions not been told they were in the tournament no matter what, they might have tried to avoid a play-in with an upset of the top team.

Come Wednesday, the trouble started. A source within the league said that Cambria County’s principal was not privy to the decision to withdraw – and became aware that it could cost the school in some form of sanctions (e.g., a future postseason ban) if it did not appear for the tournament in accordance with league bylaws.

Suddenly, the Johnstown school wanted back in. And with that came a miracle: The suspended players would be eligible as of that day, and would be available to return to the team just in time for the tournament.

How convenient.

Worse yet, it was not until after noon Wednesday that this transpired – it was effectively too late for a play-in game to be added to Wednesday’s schedule; even if it had been a possibility, a Juniata Mennonite starter had been out of school that day and thus could not participate (apparently, miracles are a bit harder to come by on this side of the state).

The solution – not a good one, but the best available -was for the Lions to play Northumberland Christian Thursday morning at 11:30.

Regrettably, the schedule for the rest of the day was not forgiving – the winner of that game was slated to hit the court in the tournament at 4:30 p.m. Tournament officials apparently refused to consider at least moving that game to the last of the four time slots on opening day to give that team a bit of well-deserved rest – especially after the early game went to overtime.

So, after 66 minutes of basketball on the same day, the Juniata County boys pick up a win but sustain a loss, putting them in position to finish no better than fifth in the tournament – but lo and behold, the team that couldn’t decide if it was playing, whose players perhaps should not be on the floor at all, will end up no worse than fourth after a first-round win.

Somehow, that just doesn’t seem to uphold the standards I would have expected from this otherwise respectable organization.

Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at