Will District 6 final be district’s final

Forbes Road and Huntingdon met for the District 6 Class AA field hockey championship last Wednesday; Forbes Road won it, 3-0.

At least there was a game this year. Last fall, no District 6 team entered the tournament – Forbes Road is the lone field hockey school in District 5, and plays through – so the Cardinals got the title and a berth in the state bracket by default.

What makes this game notable is that it may be the last. Because Juniata began a cooperative program with East Juniata this year, the number of teams in District 6 has dwindled below the magic number – four – that the PIAA recognizes for an automatic line on the state bracket.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be a District 6 Class AA champ next year – although, unlike the big-school classification, I suspect it’s more likely we’ll see the current play-through system continue instead of a play-in game, as is the case in Class AAA.

Here’s how it works: If a district has at least four teams in a sport in the same classification, the PIAA gives that district a state tournament berth. If a district has fewer than four, it must enter states through another district.

District 6 now has three teams in Class AA – Belleville Mennonite, Huntingdon and Southern Huntingdon – after Lewistown and Indian Valley merged to form Class AAA Mifflin County and Juniata combined with East Juniata, which is in District 4. Forbes Road already was a play-through team – if the Cardinals entered the District 6 tournament, they were treated no differently than the District 6 members.

In Class AAA, a state berth is shared between Districts 6 and 7 (WPIAL). The District 6 team – State College and occasionally Indian Valley were the only contenders prior to the current high school – plays in against the WPIAL champ, rather than entering the District 7 tournament.

That may not be logical or efficient in Class AA. Yes, the PIAA could choose to keep a qualifying tournament here, since technically there are four teams – but since one is in a different district that seems less than likely.

And I don’t see District 7 – which still has six Class AA teams, and is much more distant than eastern districts – wanting to play a tournament with four stranded teams (although District 6 makes contact with District 7, it is at the extreme western end, which is not where the field hockey is played).

Sadly, the best option is one that will likely mean that the last remnants of Class AA field hockey in District 6 will not be able to contend beyond the regular season – and that could be the death knell for the sport in District 6’s smaller schools.

I’m guessing that the remaining District 6 schools will end up playing through District 4, and Forbes Road will be thrown into the District 3 tournament.

District 4 should be lobbying for this if for no other reason than to see its second guaranteed state entry restored (one is shared currently with District 11). Adding three schools to its total will make District 4 larger than Districts 2 or 11, and thus entitle it to another automatic qualifying spot, the one that through this year has belonged to District 6.

Having that spot available and getting it are two different things. A very good East Juniata team took Mifflinburg to the limit in the first round of districts this year, but even Mifflinburg failed to make the District 4 final. And if the Tigers – who lost a regular-season meeting with district runner-up Lewisburg – face that tough a battle, just imagine the rough road that Belleville Mennonite or the Huntingdon County schools would have to travel.

And I’m not seeing the Cardinals as a strong contender in District 3, where the power rating system alone is going to make it hard just to get into the field.

Field hockey took a big hit a couple years ago when the PIAA moved all girls soccer into the fall. I’d hate to see this fine sport become the next wrestling, where factors off the field work against it.

Yet I think it’s fair to ask: Should the four teams that remain in these two districts still be entitled to a state bracket slot just because of geography?

Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at jfishbein@lewistownsentinel.com.