On Friday night, high school football will be in full swing in Western Pennsylvania, with the excitement for a new year at a fever pitch. And every team in the WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) will ultimately have one goal in mind, a trip to Heinz Field in November for the WPIAL championships.
Since Heinz Field opened in 2001 it has been the host site for the championship games at all levels and on Thursday night the Steelers honored that tradition unveiling WPIAL Champions at Heinz Field, Presented by UPMC.
A permanent display honoring the WPIAL Champions is now featured in the west main concourse at Heinz Field, highlighting the tradition of high school football in Western Pennsylvania and in particular the winning schools in each class yearly.
"We thought it would be nice to have a place where we could recognize the champions of the year," said Steelers' President Art Rooney II. "We've got a lot of places in the stadium where we have commemorated Steelers history and Pitt history, so the fact that high school champions are decided there every year I think it's appropriate we have a place that we recognize the high school championships as well.
"From what I understand a lot of teams talk about the 'Highway to Heinz,' that's what they call their journey of the season. It's great to have so many kids who are aiming for winding their season up at Heinz Field. It makes it all the more special. High school football is a special part of life in Western Pennsylvania. We are excited to host the end of the season and have the championships at Heinz Field."
The display will include a listing of every school that won in each class since 2001, with four display cases featuring a jersey, team and coach's photo, newspaper article, roster and slogan for each WPIAL class. Eventually a mini-helmet will be in place for every WPIAL and City League team as well. In addition highlights of the previous year's winners will be shown on a television near the display wall.
"We are so appreciative of the entire concept, the initiative being put forward," said Tim O'Malley, executive director of the WPIAL. "The significance of football here in Western Pennsylvania is nationally known. The fact that the Steelers have chosen to honor that tradition is special. You have to be from Western Pennsylvania to know the importance people place on football and the kids that play it. We couldn't be happier.
"I am not so sure that any other high school organization any place is fortunate enough to have the relationship that we do with the Rooney family, the Steelers and Heinz Field staff that provides the opportunity for high school kids to fulfill lifelong dreams to attempt to get into Heinz Field. Every kid that put on their equipment back on August 11, the goal of every one of them on that day was to get to Heinz Field. That is special in that it would not exist without the cooperation and willingness of them to provide the opportunity to the kids here in Western Pennsylvania."
On hand for the unveiling were representatives from last year's four WPIAL Champions, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (Class A), South Fayette (Class AA), West Allegheny (Class AAA) and Central Catholic (Quad A). The Steelers also honor a Coach of the Week throughout the season, and Cardinal Weurl North Catholic Coach Bob Ravenstahl is featured as part of the display as the Steelers 2013 High School Coach of the Year.
Fans will be able to enjoy the display and learn more about the history of the WPIAL at all Heinz Field events, and it's only fitting it was unveiled during USA Football Month, celebrating the younger players in the game from youth to the high school level.
"We have had a great relationship for a long time with the WPIAL, and certainly since we have moved to Heinz Field hosting the championship games has been one of the great events of the year," said Rooney. "It's been a lot of fun having the high school kids in every year. The WPIAL is always great to work with and it's an event I think the high school football fans look forward to coming down to Heinz Field."