SHEFFIELD, Pa. – The Sheffield varsity football program has been in the spotlight over the last five or so years due to low participation numbers.
One thing that has kept Sheffield from having their program canceled has been the co-op that they have had with Abraxas. A program that has been around since the late 90s. One that my brothers played in. One that I played in. One that I have covered for over a decade.
The program helped to capture an AML North title as well as brought in a young man who went on to win a state title in track for the Wolverines. It has been in the national spotlight once being featured on an internet series by Sports Illustrated. It is safe to say, that Abraxas over the last two decades has been just as much a part of Sheffield as the valley itself.
By late summer, it was clear that COVID-19 and its subsequent restrictions were going to last throughout the rest of the year, the decision was made to suspend the co-op for the 2020 season. A move that was completely understandable and responsible to ensure the health and safety on both sides, but one that put even more emphasis on participation numbers. The Wolverines would go from somewhere around 35 participants to the mid to low 20s. However, more than just numbers, the program’s suspension took a piece of Wolverine culture away with it. A void that could be felt during their first and only game this season.
As I stood on the opposing sideline of this 86-0 loss, it wasn’t the lack of fans due to state restrictions, the masks, the social distancing, or even the closed concession stand that struck me as odd. Strangely enough, I have become accustomed to that everywhere I go since this began in the spring. No, it was the fact that half of what made this program special was just gone. It just ceased to exist. There was an emptiness in the atmosphere. That isn’t to say the Sheffield kids that put on the orange and black weren’t a spirited team with pride and passion. It just wasn’t the same.
Despite the lost co-op, Sheffield head coach Chris Korbar was prepared to go to war with the players he had, however following the heavy loss to visiting Keystone, some key injuries, and a canceled game the next week against Curwensville, news came down that it was just over. The program was canceled for the remainder of the 2020 season.
I don’t just live in this community, I was born into it, raised by it, and have been impacted in a positive way by so many of its members from coaches, teachers, friends, neighbors, and family. As news spread of the cancellation, with every Facebook post I read, I understood where they were coming from. I felt their heartbreak, their distress, and their confusion. The feeling that the already uphill climb of survival had just been turned into a mountain. A mountain that this time, appeared to not be the Wolverines to conquer.
But then a light…
The Wolverines caught a break, with the Warren County School District and PIAA approving for the remainder of the 2020 season a one-time co-op with Warren High School. A perfect example of the best of our county. In an area where there is occasional tension between neighboring schools pertaining to the future of athletics and education over the last decade or so, when in a time of desperation, in a time of need, Warren High School and the WCSD understands that at the end of the day, none of this, not COVID-19, declining population, or anything else for that matter should fall on the shoulders of the kids trying to participate. Particularly the seniors. These kids have put in the time and effort to compete. They have earned a chance to walk off that field on their accord.
Sheffield’s teams have not always competed at a high level, but they have always had passion, determination, and fearlessness. My hope is that these kids, their families, and the fans from the heart of the Allegheny will bring all three of these attributes with them as they play as Dragons. The color of their jersey is not nearly as important as the person wearing it. Friday night, the players that chose to take advantage of this saving grace opportunity, will join those who already co-op from Youngsville and will carry with them an entire valley’s pride.
Three schools, one team. They will play in blue and white, but they represent orange and black. More importantly, they are precisely what has been a staple of Wolverine football for years. In the face of impossible odds, when defeat is seemingly unavoidable, all you can do is be the fiercest, toughest, and most tenacious animal in all of creation.