BY JEFF FALK
During the Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball program’s recent run to its third state championship, everyone associated with the team – almost to a person – pointed to the Beavers’ competition in the Lancaster-Lebanon League as a big reason for its ability to compete on the state level and to improve as a team. And certainly similar things can be said about the opponents who faced Lebanon Catholic during the regular season.
But the same can not be said for opponents who are currently playing the Beavers in other sports. And certainly Lebanon Catholic doesn’t take a lot – should read ‘enough’ – away from 21-0 and 15-0 losses either.
So if neither side is getting much – should read ‘enough’ – out of these athletic meetings, why are we continuing them? Perhaps it would be in the best interest of all involved if the Beavers were to locate a new athletic association to compete in.
“I would prefer them staying in the league, with the hope that at some point in time, they can improve their numbers,” said Lancaster-Lebanon League executive director Dick Balderston of the Beavers. “It’s unfortunate. I’m happy for the girls’ basketball team and what it was able to accomplish. It’s an identity for that school.
“I have no desire at all for them to leave the Lancaster-Lebanon League,” added Balderston. “I’d like to see them increase their enrollment and become more competitive in the sports they have.”
Lebanon Catholic athletic director Mike Miller and principal Rose Kury could not be reached for comment for this piece.
Lebanon Catholic currently sponsors eight athletic programs which compete in the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
Baseball is a sport in which the Beavers have been more competitive, more recently. But this spring, Lebanon Catholic has dropped 11 straight games to start the season and have been outscored by a combined margin of 171-9.
The Beavers have lost 40 of their last 41 outings and haven’t won a Lancaster-Lebanon League game since 2013. Not unlike some of the other sports, in baseball Lebanon Catholic has been hurt by a small overall enrollment and a lack of experience and playing time during developmental years.
Earlier this season, Lebanon Catholic won its first softball game in what it believed to be five years. But the Beavers have been outscored by a combined total of 174-8 this year.
“I think to some degree that it is a concern,” said Balderston. “When most schools go up to play Lebanon Catholic, they figure they’ve got a win. Personally, I don’t know what’s keeping them hanging on, how you can support sports with their enrollment. They used to be bigger. But the number of sports they have is extremely small.
“Probably the only thing teams are getting out of it is points for districts,” continued Balderston. “They are a Lebanon County school. They are in the league. We want to give them credit for as much as they do. There has been some talk about schools wanting coops with other schools. But they (the Beavers) don’t want to do that. They want to keep their identity as best as they can.”
During boys’ and girls’ soccer season in the fall, Lebanon Catholic was only slightly more competitive on the scoreboard.
The Beaver boys did win a soccer game this past fall, but were outscored by a combined margin of 66-10. By one count, Lebanon Catholic has gone 8-144-2 in boys’ soccer over the past nine seasons.
In girls’ soccer, the Beavers were outscored 64-13 while going 1-14 in 2016. But in the two previous years, Lebanon Catholic went 6-12 and 3-14-1.
With many of the sports in which Lebanon Catholic is struggling, one would have a difficult time imagining the Beavers competing for L-L section championships or thinking of a scenario where they would turn things around and eventually become competitive. In other words, the problems that Lebanon Catholic is experiencing seem to go beyond cyclical.
“With the exception of girls’ basketball, their competitiveness is relatively weak,” said Balderston. “If you look at the scores, it’s obvious. They have to remain as competitive as possible by reducing their number of sports. They have been competitive in baseball in the past. With the exception of two sports, they have not been very strong.”
So what does all this mean for Lebanon Catholic’s ultra-competitive girls’ basketball program? It creates a quandary.
While the Beavers remaining in the Lancaster-Lebanon League might not be the best thing for many of LCS’s sports programs, it may be the best thing for the Beaver girls. So ultimately, the Lebanon Catholic administration could be faced with the decision to do what’s best for its most successful program or what’s best for its other athletic programs.
Or perhaps what’s best for the girls’ basketball program is what’s best for the entire athletic program as a whole, not to mention the school itself.
More and more, bigger schools don’t want to play Lebanon Catholic in girls’ basketball. But the Beavers themselves are only five years removed from barely having enough student-athletes to field a team.
And the once-proud Lebanon Catholic boys’ basketball program has also fallen on tough times recently.
“I don’t see them adding sports,” said Balderston. “I think they want to keep the sports they have. But I would hate to see them leave the league.
“Personally speaking, it’s very difficult to be competitive in every sport, with only 60 some kids in the school,” Balderston added. “You’re spreading kids very thin.”
So if Lebanon Catholic was to leave the Lancaster-Lebanon League, where would it go?
The 20-school Commonwealth Christian Athletic Conference, of which New Covenant Christian is a member, would seem to be a good fit for the Beavers competitively and size-wise. But the CCAC is made up of schools with Evangelical or Mennonite backgrounds.
Lebanon Catholic might consider playing an independent schedule. But it would seem unlikely that one of the Beavers’ programs – like girls’ basketball – would play in one league and the other programs would compete in another, or independently.
“Would we be open to new members?” said Jenn Cornetto, president of the CCAC. “We would welcome other schools with similar religious doctrines becoming part of the league. If Lebanon Catholic was open to it and if they met the criterion, we would consider it. We’re not closed as far as providing an opportunity.
“I honestly don’t know,” continued Cornetto. “I’d have to make that call after seeing an application. It’s a different religious belief than we might have. There may be different beliefs. A lot of us (current members) have similar beliefs.”
“It keeps their identity,” said Balderston of the Beavers remaining in the L-L. “It’s a school that has tradition. It has an identity. How does it affect the Lancaster-Lebanon schools? With the exception of baseball and girls’ basketball, they’re not really competitive. I think they can be competitive with (new member) Lancaster Country Day. I think they can be competitive with (possible new member) Lancaster County Christian. But I think Lebanon Catholic is pretty much locked into what they have.”
Lebanon Catholic’s participation in the Lancaster-Lebanon League dates back to the circuit’s inception in the early 1970s. And if history has taught us anything, the Beavers are proud and persistent.
“I think the league is extremely healthy, and getting better,” said Balderston. “We’re getting better because we added two schools who will be more competitive with the smaller schools.
“We have two goals,” Balderston continued. “The first goal is to be competitive with our schools within the league. The second is to follow all PIAA regulations. By following those rules, we’ll keep our schools competitive.”
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I would love to see Lebanon Catholic girls basketball schedule a couple of non league games with Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg & Trinity on the west shore school district. I believe it would create a new friendly but competitive spirit within the Catholic schools.