On Friday, November 21st, you could barely find any students within the halls of the high school. It wasn’t because of perilous ice coated roads keeping buses parked for the day, or a few feet of snow, or a below-zero windchill keeping everyone inside. It wasn’t for an abundance of field trips or even a really organized school-wide skip day. Instead, if a student wasn’t at Heinz Field rooting for the Lopes Varsity Football team, they certainly were not in classes. There were no classes – under 50 students were in attendance that day. As a result, an altered schedule was put in place by Dr. Lockette in the morning. Students could stay in the auditorium and watch a movie, go to the library to read/work/socialize, and when the game started around 11 AM, they could watch on the same big screen in the auditorium.
Thanks to Superintendent Thomas Ralston, students didn’t have to depend on big screen viewing to support the team. All high school students were permitted to attend the WPIAL Championship football game at Heinz Field, as he posted a statement on the district web site during the weekend of the football team’s win over North Catholic that stated, “For the WPIAL Finals game on Friday, all high school students wishing to attend the game will be excused from school.”
I believe that this was, without a doubt, the right decision. Sports teams at school are supported year round by students, faculty, and even the community. It was important that students can continue to attend and support their classmates and friends as they compete for a WPIAL Championship.
But, this permitting to legally miss school on behalf of a one team, regardless of booster support and deep loyalty from community members, seems to not have equal footing for other AHS sports and athletes. For example, I have recently given the administration at Avonworth some flak for fighting me on the issue of taking a teammate with me to Hershey after I qualified to compete for a state title in the PIAA Cross Country State Championships. While other students have competed at the state level in recent years, compared to the many decades since the football team competed for a section championship, this right for an additional excused absence connected to cross country was never even contested until this year.
This decision to allow notes from parents to count as an excused absence should set a precedent for the future that gives students the right to support their friends if they are competing in a WPIAL Championship — not to mention a State Championship — regardless of the sport.
After this decision, students should now be excused for sporting events such as WPIAL Finals in cross country, track, swimming, or golf for example. In fact, just this year, junior Caroline Carlson not only competed in WPIAL Finals, but she qualified to compete at the PIAA Championship for golf at Heritage Hills Golf Resort and Conference Center in York, Pennsylvania. Some may argue that individuals that succeed within a team sport, like Caroline on the Golf team or other future Track, Wrestling, and Swimming team members, will not draw the volumes of fans that the football team drew simply because of the scope of people connected to the player. School obviously should not shut down if one or two players in a sport are competing that day. But, with many sports holding finals taking place during the school day , just as with football, students can support their friends who are on these teams as they compete in a truly special and memorable event.
Another fair counter-argument against allowing excuses to attend championships across sports might at first reside with our region’s love of football. We as student-athletes live in Western Pennsylvania, where one sport – football – is ingrained within society like no other and is elevated to an almost religious status. Yet beyond that reason, it is important that the decision made by Dr. Ralston is a sports decision, and not solely a football one. I know some students who are not huge football fans, but would absolutely love to support the track team in May as qualifying athletes compete in the WPIAL Championships. Why is their support and passion any less permissible compared to fans of varsity football?
No student should be discriminated against simply because they happen to have a predisposition towards one sport over another.
By not allowing a student to attend a State Championship for another sport, no matter how far away the popularity is of that sport compared to football, this district is engaging in an unspoken prejudice that conflicts with the type of message we should expect from administration – every sport matters and every championship is important.
Personally, I was excited to have the opportunity to attend the football game on that chilly Friday morning and cheer on some of my friends who competed in a game that they will remember for the rest of their lives. I am glad that this decision was made. But I will be even more glad when I see other students given the same opportunity to support their friends as they compete in their respective championships.