This summer, Shady Side Academy (SSA) welcomed 11 students from The Neighborhood Academy (TNA) as members of the SSA football team, thanks to a new PIAA-approved Cooperative Sponsorship of Football (co-op) agreement between the two Pittsburgh-area independent schools. The co-op gives students at TNA, which does not have a football program, the opportunity to join the Shady Side Academy Bulldogs football team.
The co-op was approved by the PIAA Board of Directors on July 14, 2021, and the WPIAL Board of Directors on July 19. TNA students joined SSA summer workouts shortly after approval, receiving a warm, enthusiastic welcome from their new teammates and coaches. Preseason practices began Monday, Aug. 16. So far, the co-op is off to a very positive start.
"It has been amazing to see our players come together during summer workouts," said Head Football Coach Chuck DiNardo '00, who views all of his players as one team, regardless of the school they attend. "We're building relationships and building trust in each other right now, which is vital. We have a great deal of work ahead of us, but the environment that these kids are creating each day in practice shows you know we are onto something special."
"This partnership has been the best. People from my school have always wanted a football team, so I bet those people are even more excited now. This has been fun for me as well. I'm learning everything slowly and it's all coming together!" said TNA sophomore Brent Manns.
"I think it's amazing that there are more people playing football," said SSA senior co-captain Andy Marous. "It's been such a unique and valuable experience for me, so I'm glad I can share it with more people. Our new guys love coming in and working hard to improve, which helps motivate us as a team. I'm grateful to spend time with them and call them my teammates. I can't wait to see what we do together this season."
After SSA was approached a year ago about the possibility by TNA representatives, then-Athletic Director Gene Deal and DiNardo began formally exploring a potential partnership from SSA's perspective. Through extensive interviews with SSA football parents, players and alumni, they found broad support for such an initiative, as well as considerable upside for both schools.
There are many cooperative sponsorships in the PIAA and WPIAL in nearly every sport. The program is designed to help smaller schools come together to provide opportunities for greater participation. Per PIAA by-laws, co-ops must involve at least one school with an enrollment of fewer than 300 boys or girls (depending on sport) in grades 9-11, a threshold both SSA and TNA meet. The schools must be in contiguous or overlapping school districts.
The classification of a boys' co-op team is determined by the combined enrollment of all male students at one school plus 50% of male students at the other school. Based on that formula, the Shady Side Academy Bulldogs football team will continue to compete in PIAA/WPIAL Class 2A.
"Our community is blessed to have this opportunity with Shady Side Academy," said TNA Director of Athletics Gary Shawley. "The cooperative effort has been exhilarating for our young men and our community. The SSA community has welcomed us with open arms, and the young men have blended together very quickly. It has been a joy to watch them support each other during practice and enjoy each other's company off of the gridiron. I believe the two communities bonding together will forge lasting relationships not only on the field, but also off the field and for years to come."
"We are excited to debut the new cooperative sponsorship between Shady Side Academy and The Neighborhood Academy – the first such collaboration in SSA's rich football history," said SSA Director of Athletics Sean Simmons. "It provides student-athletes from both schools the opportunity to train and compete as one Bulldog team. While observing preseason practices, it has been an absolute pleasure to see student-athletes from both communities coming together to work towards a common goal while creating positive lifelong memories. We look forward to a great season!"
The football co-op further bolsters a longstanding relationship between SSA and TNA, both of whom are members of the Pittsburgh Consortium of Independent Schools (PCIS). SSA alumnus Rev. Tom Johnson Jr. '73 co-founded TNA in 2001 after serving as a teacher, coach and board member at Shady Side for 10 years. As TNA's head of school from 2001-2018, and now as headmaster emeritus, Johnson remains active in both school communities.
Both schools have an athletic requirement for students as part of a balanced, college-preparatory curriculum focused on the whole child. In the past, SSA has allowed TNA's track & field team to hold practices and home meets at SSA's Michael J. Farrell Stadium. And, coincidentally, both schools' mascots are Bulldogs.
SSA and TNA have committed to the football co-op for at least two seasons (2021 and 2022), after which time the schools will evaluate the program and decide whether to continue it further.
"I am so glad that both schools have worked successfully to provide TNA's students the opportunity to participate in high school football and deepen an already strong relationship between two of our city's leading independent schools." said SSA President Bart Griffith '93. "We are excited for the season and all that this partnership will inspire for both communities."
"I am very enthusiastic about the opportunity for The Neighborhood Academy to join Shady Side Academy in the upcoming football season," said TNA Head of School Dr. Anthony Williams. "Together, our student-athletes will grow with one another both on and off the field. I am very grateful to the SSA community for embracing this opportunity. I can't wait to cheer our student-athletes on. GO BULLDOGS!"
About Shady Side Academy
Shady Side Academy is a nationally respected private school in Pittsburgh for boys and girls in grades PK-12, with an optional boarding experience in high school. Four age-specific campuses with extraordinary resources, teachers who actively mentor, a forward-thinking curriculum, a diverse and inclusive community, and a legacy of alumni accomplishments all inspire Shady Side students to high achievement in academics, the arts and athletics, and to meaningful ambitions in life. Learn more at www.shadysideacademy.org.
About The Neighborhood Academy
The Neighborhood Academy is a faith-based, college preparatory, independent school in Pittsburgh for students in grades 6-12 who come from families who demonstrate financial need. The school's mission is to break the cycle of generational poverty by empowering youth and preparing them for college and citizenship. Learn more at www.theneighborhoodacademy.org.