The WPIAL football championships are returning to Heinz Field after a one-year hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The WPIAL is excited to be back at premier venues for our championship events this year,” said WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman. “The board of directors is especially pleased to return to Heinz Field and offer a one-of-a-kind experience for the student athletes.”
While the venue has been set, the dates have yet to be determined. The WPIAL is targeting Nov. 26-27.
The Class 6A championship game, which will most likely be held Nov. 19, however, will be contested at a high school stadium.
The other five championship games could be held over a two-day period the following weekend at Heinz Field or four of the classification could play on the same day at the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers and University of Pittsburgh. The other contest would be held at a high school venue.
Sites and dates for other WPIAL fall championships were approved.
The WPIAL boys and girls soccer championships return to Highmark Stadium Nov. 5-6. The site is home to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
The team championships for golf return to Cedarbrook Golf Club Oct. 14.
Prior to that the individual championships will be held Sept. 20 at Allegheny Country Club for Class 2A boys; Oct. 5 at Nemacolin Country Club for Class 3A boys; and Oct. 7 at Hannastown Country Club for Class 2A and 3A girls.
Washington & Jefferson College will host the girls team tennis finals Oct. 20 and the field hockey championships Oct. 30.
California University of Pennsylvania will host the boys and girls cross country championships Oct. 28.
Robert Morris University will host the girls volleyball finals Nov. 6.
In addition to a return to “premier” championship venues, fall sports, particularly football, will enjoy the return of spectators. During the pandemic, only essential personnel and home-fan parents were allowed to attend games.
The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions is welcome news to players like Mt. Lebanon’s Eli Heidenreich.
“I definitely missed the fans. Friday nights did not have the same feel because of the fraction of people who were allowed to attend games,” he said.
“We are all excited about playing in front of fans in the stands, especially our student section. We are all close to those guys. It adds excitement to the games.”
The WPIAL built drama into the football schedules this season. The league pitted natural rivals against each other to start the 2021 campaign before teams move into conference action.
Lebo kicks off the season against three rivals, who now compete in the Allegheny Six Conference in the WPIAL’s Class 5A classification.
On Aug. 27 the Blue Devils visit Bethel Park. Lebo then hosts Upper St. Clair Sept. 3. The Blue Devils visit Peters Township Sept. 10 before opening Quad County Conference action entertaining Canon-McMillan at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17.
“We are super excited about playing Bethel, USC and Peters,” said Heidenreich.
“Since our first home game is against USC, everybody will be ready for that one. The whole town will come out for that. It’s a game that both communities look forward to.”
The Blue Devils are also looking forward to a showdown with Central Catholic. Lebo hosts the Vikings at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8.
“That date is circled on our calendar,” Heidenreich said. “Last year, we split with them. It’s going to be a real battle.”
In 2021, the Blue Devils upended the Vikings, 37-30, in the regular season but dropped a 35-0 decision in the semifinals of the playoffs. Central Catholic went on to defeat North Allegheny, 38-24, in the WPIAL Class 6A championship game.