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Berwick Agrees To Series With Southern Columbia

April 13, 2019

Berwick superintendent Wayne Brookhart understands the Wyoming Valley Conference football schedule and the constraints it can place on teams needing to play within a conference format.

He also realizes the importance of having some flexibility when it comes to scheduling games. And with the football regular season limited to just 10 games, flexibility sometimes becomes an issue.

But when Berwick was tinkering with the idea of joining the Heartland Conference, conversations arose about the possibility of Berwick and Southern Columbia meeting on the football field. Those discussions turned into reality when Brookhart announced a home-and-home series starting in 2020 between the two teams that have a combined 15 state championships with the potential to add more.

Brookhart confirmed that Berwick will host Southern Columbia on Saturday night, Aug. 23 at Crispin Field in the season opener. The following year, Berwick will play at Southern Columbia to open the season.

Southern Columbia is a Class 2A school, while Berwick is 4A.

“When we were initially talking about the Heartland Conference and conference affiliation, we had side discussions with Southern Columbia that we thought about playing each other,” Brookhart said. “I was in favor, (Southern Columbia coach) Jim Roth was in favor. We continued to talk and felt it would be great for Northeastern Pennsylvania, the region and the county.”

Former Berwick athletic director Frank Sheptock was involved in the preliminary discussions and reached out to Mike Ognosky, who handles the football schedule. District 4 does its scheduling differently from District 2. District 4 teams have a general idea of their opponents in the 2020-2021 season, while District 2 schools do not.

“Mike Ognosky and Russ Davis both said that although they don’t do the scheduling as early as the Heartland Conference, they were going to do everything they can to accommodate us,” Brookhart said.

The two storied programs have met only one time with Berwick winning, 34-13, in 1965. Since then, Berwick and Southern Columbia have changed the landscape of high school football across the state. Berwick has won six state titles, while Southern Columbia has nine.

“One of the things I like is playing schools that are nearby with similar histories,” Brookhart said. “Sometimes we are a little too focused on competitive balance and a little less on geography. Berwick is traveling too much. We are not a great fit in the Wyoming Valley Conference, and we aren’t a great fit in the Heartland. We don’t fit either place. I like some flexibility. I am fine with what we do in the league. Outside the league, I like flexibility to play teams nearby. If we need to request some creativity from the league or district, that is what we are going to do. That is what we did in this case.”

Roth currently has an overall record of 428-62-2, and is chasing George Curry, the late Berwick coaching legend who is the state’s all-time winningest coach with 455 victories. Curry finished his career with a record of 455-107-4.

“We know Southern Columbia will be strong and we have several really good players in our junior class that we felt comfortable scheduling this,” Brookhart said. “Part of it is we want to draw a lot of people and show off our program and facilities. Arguably, Berwick and Southern Columbia are two of the most recognizable football programs in the state.”

Brookhart said that even with the scheduling of Southern Columbia, Berwick will still be able to maintain its rivalry with Selinsgrove, something that was important to him.

“We are trying to keep an identity in both areas in all sports, but it shows up less in football,” Brookhart said. “We had discussions (Thursday) if we can still keep Selinsgrove because that is an important game for us. We love playing Dallas, Crestwood, Hazleton Area and Valley West. But when you have flexibility you can go chase a game like a Southern Columbia.”

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