High School Soccer

The basics of Philadelphia boys’ high school soccer: A District 12 overview

Soccer has a long history in Philadelphia. Therefore, its organization is varied and somewhat convoluted. But you’re reading about high school soccer, so I assume you want to learn.

In Philadelphia, there are three main leagues. The Inter-Academic league features many of the private schools in and around Philadelphia, including the Haverford School, and Penn Charter. This league is not part of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) and therefore does not participate in the state playoffs.

The Public League

District 12, which basically covers the region of Philadelphia, has two leagues, the Catholic League and the Public League. The Public League is divided into three divisions with a relegation and promotion system like that of the EPL, but it also has an inter-league playoff. A Division has twelve teams, eight of which make the playoffs. B Division has nine teams, two of which make the playoffs. As of now C Division has ten teams. With the current state of SDP funding, those numbers may drop drastically.

The Public League, sometimes called the Pub, features diverse skill levels. Some teams are learning soccer for the first time in high school, while other teams have a majority of club players with the potential to play college. Another aspect of the Pub is the difficulty that many low income players have getting PIAA physicals. Coaches can try to take advantage of free physicals, but these often are in the Spring preceding the season, and soccer is not on the mind of the players.

Soccer in the Pub is diverse ethnically. Fels has produced a multi-ethnic but predominantly Liberian team for many years. Bartram is mostly Nigerian. Lamberton is pre-dominantly Albanian. Many teams have players with Asian, African, European, and South American roots playing alongside each other, illustrating in microcosm the global nature of the game.

Another wonderful aspect of the Pub is that it provides an opportunity for league play for many who cannot afford to play club soccer. Some of these players are technical, coming from soccer loving cultures, but have never played organized soccer. The league can provide a venue for them to showcase themselves and move on to college ball.

The dark side of Pub soccer is the stripped down nature of the programs. Only six teams are listed on the JV schedule for the upcoming season. No school has a freshmen team. Most schools have raggedy fields or play on borrowed Department of Recreation fields. Some play games on the Super Sites, the turf all-sport fields that are located near Simon Gratz, Germantown, Southern, and Northeast high schools. Earlier this summer, the Philadelphia School District’s School Reform Commission passed a budget which eliminated sports for the upcoming school year. While fall sports have since been funded, this highlights how little political support can create a bare bones league.

District 12 championships

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) has three categories into which schools are divided, based on the population of boys in the school. These are:

  • AAA (3A) with 415-9999 boys
  • AA (2A) with 215-414 boys enrolled, and
  • A (1A) with 1-214 boys enrolled.(One wonders how a school with one boy would field a team.)

Find these numbers here.

PIAA divides the state into twelve districts. Philadelphia was the last to enter, so it’s District 12. The state playoff bracket gives some districts two spots, but District 12 only gets one. Here is a map of Pennsylvania broken down by PIAA district.

Most leagues, including the Catholic League and Public League, have a season and playoffs in which these PIAA classifications don’t affect the season or the league playoff. Small schools play big schools. The Catholic League has a playoff, as does the Public League. The highest finishing 3A, 2A, and 1A teams from each league playoff with each other to determine which team is the District 12 class champion, and that team enters the PIAA (state) play-off.

For instance, Masterman (a public school) is a 1A school. They went out in the semifinals of the public league playoffs. In the District Twelve 1A game, they played Conwell-Egan, which lost in the play-in round before the quarter finals of the Catholic League Playoff, but is the only 1A team in the Catholic League. Masterman won 3-2 on penalties, and advanced to the PIAA playoffs, where they lost to the 1A champion of District 1, New-Hope Solesbury.

The Catholic League

The Philadelphia Catholic League has been the dominant force in Philadelphia HS Boys Soccer in recent years. Since 2008, the champion of the Catholic League has gone on to win every District 12 AAA title game (called the city title game). The Catholic League has also claimed the 2A every year, but Masterman won the 1A game twice. Last year, La Salle College HS went to the PIAA 3A semi-finals before losing 1-0. Father Judge, another CL team, won the state 3A title in 2009.

The Catholic League has invested more in sports, especially soccer, over the years, with many schools having freshmen, junior varsity, and varsity programs and various summer affiliations. Some of the best coaches in the CL earned their jobs by winning multiple public league championships. Most schools have two fields. As such, much of Philadelphia’s young talent can be found in these schools. Sam Bathurst, a senior midfielder at Archbishop Ryan, is an example. Bathurst started at striker for Central HS in 2010. He decided to move to Archbishop Ryan his sophomore year, looking for a more comprehensive soccer experience. If soccer is a student’s highest priority, they often look to the Catholic teams and the private schools.

The teams in the Catholic League are not exclusively in the city limits, but they are all close. The Catholic League has produced great players and has a strong sense of tradition. Often the players are sons of former players. In some sense, the Catholic League is traditional Philly soccer. Most teams have some players of African or Latin American backgrounds, but the majority of the players are of Irish-Catholic and other European backgrounds that immigrated in the last century.


  1. Surprised you did not mention the Central League since Lower Merion and Conestoga were recent State Champions and fielded probably stronger teams than the Catholic ones you praise…
    But overall great overview! Well done!

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      Josh will be covering Philadelphia boys’ high school soccer in District 12, not the suburban schools in District 1. Guido, if you’re interested…

  2. Excellent overview! Will the new YSC Academy school eventually compete in the Inter-Academic league?

    • r u kidding?! They will only play DA teams as far as I know and expect.

    • My understanding is that once a player signs with a development academy, they are no longer eligible to play high school sports? Does anyone know if they are allowed to leave the academy and regain eligibility? Must be a difficult decision for parents.

      • The Development Academies made that new rule about two years ago- they don’t allow their players to play high school soccer. Some teams CL teams, like Archbishop Wood, lost players to this rule. The high schools and PIAA have no rule against playing elsewhere (some individual coaches may). Joe Krantz, the coach at Wood, is hoping his kid will play in his senior year- though he wouldn’t be about to play for his DA team then.

  3. I look forward to this- as a former Catholic League player, it will be good to see regular reports on them today.

  4. Another vote for someone to cover the other local districts! I will enjoy reading about District 12 so I know who our competition in the playoffs. Any chance for girl’s coverage too? And no, I’m not volunteering…I can’t write, I’m a math teacher.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: