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Woodland Hills mainstay Morton shows no quit

Woodland Hills is in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game for the second consecutive year, and Bill Morton is back where he belongs — on the sideline.

Morton, the Woodland Hills defensive coordinator, hopes to be able to watch and lead his players with his own eyes. He coached last season’s victory over Gateway by telephone from a hospital bed while battling blood clots.

Now, when he makes a call, offers advice or, perhaps, even raises his voice, the players will hear it directly from his lips.

The problem is that the game against North Allegheny, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today at Heinz Field, probably will be Morton’s last this season.

He is very sick, and he delayed his stem cell transplant procedure long enough to help Woodland Hills get to another title game. Finally, he will have the procedure done Dec. 14 at the Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh.

Morton, 61, has POEMS Syndrome, a blood disorder that strikes one person in a million, according to Dr. Dhaval Mehta, a hematology and oncology fellow at UPMC and the Veterans Administration Hospital.

If Woodland Hills wins and advances to the PIAA quarterfinals, Morton likely will be too weak from pre-transplant testing to attend the first game. But the good news is that if the procedure works, there is a 90 percent chance of a full recovery, Morton said.

Morton, a Vietnam War veteran, has been planning all week to be at Heinz Field, but earlier this week he also said there is no guarantee.

“The way things are going, I’m not sure,” he said.

Morton refuses to sit in the coaches’ booth above the field, opting to stand on the sideline to be closer to his players.

“I like to talk to the kids when they come off the field,” he said.

But he often feels weak and tires easily, and his legs, feet, arms and hands eventually go numb.

He sits in a cart at practice but has difficulty getting into and out of it.

“Last Friday night (after the semifinal victory against North Hills), I didn’t think I was going to get back to locker room,” he said.

Morton’s illness caused him to miss three games when Woodland Hills was in the midst of its surprising 1-3 start to the season.

“I went crazy,” he said.

Since doctors allowed Morton to return in the sixth week against Fox Chapel, Woodland Hills is 7-0.

Junior linebacker and co-captain Mike Caprara was packing his gear for the Fox Chapel game when he walked past coach George Novak’s office in the Wolvarena and saw Morton sitting there. It was a sight he wasn’t expecting.

“I gave him the biggest smile,” Caprara said. “It made me want to go play that game because that made it mean even more.”

Morton said he received so many hugs from his players that he felt uncomfortable.

Caprara said Morton deserves “110 percent” of the credit for the resurgence of the Woodland Hills defense during the team’s eight-game winning streak.

“He’s fighting his health battles every day,” Caprara said. “Just seeing him there hits a spot in your heart and makes you want to get the job done. He wants it just as bad as the kids want it. His heart is so big, and he puts in so many hours. If there’s anyone you want to get it done for, it’s coach Morton.”

Morton hopes to coach next season, but he has been told the immune system takes a year to return to normal. He is at peace with the fact that he might coach his last game tonight at Heinz Field.

“You know, it has to come to an end sooner or later,” he said. “The nicest part is my end could come at Heinz Field. I told the kids there are kids and coaches who have never been to the championship game.

“I am very fortunate to be there eight times (seven as an assistant with Woodland Hills, once with Central Catholic). I don’t think many people can say that.”

Additional Information:

Championship facts

• Games : Clairton (12-0) vs. Rochester (12-0), 9:30 a.m.; Aliquippa (12-0) vs. South Fayette (12-0), 1 p.m.; Montour (12-0) vs. Central Valley (9-3), 4:30 p.m.; North Allegheny (11-1) vs. Woodland Hills (9-3), 7:30 p.m.

Site : Heinz Field

• Tickets : Available at the gate for $10. One ticket is good for all four games.

• TV : FSN Pittsburgh will have live coverage for three of the four championships. The game between Aliquippa and South Fayette will be preempted by the Penguins game, and instead, shown tape-delayed following the Quad-A game.

• Radio : The games will be broadcast by various stations. Among them, KDKA-FM (93.7) will carry the Class A and AA games, WJAS-AM (1320) will have Class AAA and AAAA. WJPA-FM (95.3), WMBA-AM (1460) and WBVP-AM (1230) also will carry certain games.

• Notable : In 1964, the WPIAL football titles were won by South Fayette (A), Montour (AA) and Aliquippa (AAA). However, neither South Fayette nor Montour has won a title in the 45 seasons since. Aliquippa has won 10 during that span.

Not since 1966, when Sto-Rox was named champion, has a first-year program won a WPIAL football title. Central Valley could match Sto-Rox’s feat. The most recent first-year program to reach the championship game was Woodland Hills in 1987.

South Fayette’s Christian Brumbaugh stands three TD passes behind former Sto-Rox star Adam DiMichele, who threw 76 in his varsity career. That mark, set in 2003, is believed to be the most in WPIAL history.

Rochester and Clairton will meet for the second straight year in the WPIAL Class A title game. The last time there was a championship rematch was 1994, when McGuffey beat Blackhawk, 12-6. A year earlier, Blackhawk won, 28-0.

• Chris Harlan


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