Clairton High School. My alma mater and the alma mater of some of the most generous people in the world. Just how generous are they? Well, first let's take a look at the community and the school. In its heyday Clairton's population pressed toward the 30,000 mark and Clairton High School had so many students that it spawned several other schools in the area to be built and take the overload. The last such school was Thomas Jefferson High School boult on Old Clairton Road. Their first class of juniors came from the CHS sophomore class that would graduate in 1960. Thus, the first TJ graduating class in 1960 had begun their academic career at Clairton.
As times changed, populations moved, and steel mills, the lifeblood of the valley, closed, TJ prospered and Clairton's numbers declined. The city continues to lose population - currently the population barely is above 5,000 - and the high school graduating class hovers around 50 students. Pretty bleak The same fate has occurred up and down the Mon (Monongahela) River in most of the once-prosperous mill towns.
But Clairton is different. No, seriously, it really is. That is not just the Chamber of Commerce talking, it really is! I can prove it. Let's take the mighty Bear football team. Yes, they dropped from the big boy multiple "A" competition to single "A" and are perhaps the smallest school in that division, but the senior class who is about to graduate lost only one game - the first one they played as freshman. That sent them on a record setting tear of three consecutive state titles and more WPIAL titles than you can shake a stick at, and national record 63 consecutive wins. They did this with a smaller budget and a fraction of the coaching staff than some of their competitors (read "victims"). When there was no money for capes to keep them warm in the winter, of new jerseys, or victory rings, alumni from around the country rallied to donate to their cause. That's just the way CHS alumni roll.
So we know they can run, kick, and pass, but what else can the CHS students do?
Each year California State University, PA holds a region wide Robotics competition. Schools of every shape, size, and persuasion from all over Western PA compete. It is a big deal. The winners get to go to national competition which this year is held in Indianapolis, Indiana. The CHS Robotics team blew away the competition and qualified for the national competition in Indy, but the cost, even after trimming the budget by renting a van and driving the entire team was $5,000.
CHS students, faculty, and community began a fund-raising drive to earn the money but it was slow going. With a week left to the competition the goal was less than 1/3 met. So another Clairton clarion call went out to friends and alumni of the school. Newspaper articles were written, emails were sent, and in this space a plea was issued. According to Mary Niederberger who wrote a story of Clairton High School's plight, "The students fundraising had stalled at about $1,400 late last week. But after an article about their plight in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday, more than 100 individuals have sent checks to the team, creating a $30,000 pot, enough to cover the costs of travel to the competition and plenty of extra money for spare parts that are generally needed for replacement during the competitions."
Bravo to everybody who contributed. As we all used to sing during our own high school days, "It's Clairton High School, It's Clairton High School, the pride of every student here...."
A little blogging music, Maestro, "The Clairton High School Alma Mater," played by the CHS band.
DORMONT – Fans crammed their way into every nook and cranny of the gym. They came to watch some of the WPIAL’s premier athletes compete under intense playoff conditions.
Lincoln Park and Clairton didn’t disappoint Tuesday night in a thriller of a Class A semifinal game.
But, after a furious finish, it was the top-seeded Leopards who were 71-70 upset losers. The fifth-seeded Bears (16-6) joined their fans in a wild mid-court celebration when Lincoln Park’s Elijah Minnie missed a long 3-pointer just before the final buzzer.
“We’re devastated,” Minnie said. “I mean, I’m speechless.”
“It hurts. I know how bad our kids feel right now,” Lincoln Park coach Mark Javens said. “I feel like throwing up.”
Minutes before tip-off, the Keystone Oaks gym was jammed in anticipation of a game featuring the reigning WPIAL basketball champs (Lincoln Park) and a football dynasty (Clairton). The overflow crowd sat, stood and knelt in all four corners of the gymnasium.
Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch was doing radio commentary. Standing in one corner of the gym were Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight and former Panthers star Curtis Aikin.
Every member of Clairton’s basketball team also played for the school’s football team that has won 63 straight games and won four straight WPIAL and PIAA Class A titles. Three of the Bears are headed to Pitt to play football: Tyler Boyd, Titus Howard and Terrish Webb.
Lincoln Park doesn’t have a football team. But it has a strong basketball program that was trying to repeat as WPIAL champs. It has three underclassmen on the NCAA Division I radar: Minnie, a 6-foot-8 junior forward; Ryan Skovranko, a 6-6 junior forward; and Maverick Rowan, a 6-5 freshman guard.
On this night, it was those amazing athletes from Clairton who pulled off a stunning upset.
“Man, I’m loving this,” Webb said after exchanging hugs with teammates and fans. “Everybody doubted us. But I knew in my heart, we could beat anybody.
“Call us football players if you want. We are football players. But we are basketball players, too. We’re athletes. We’re everything. We do it all. We were just ready to play tonight. We were ready to win. Everybody else who has played Lincoln Park was scared of them. But we don’t go into any game scared of anybody.”
That was obvious from the opening tip. A blowout victory Lincoln Park (19-6) is accustomed to wasn’t going to happen on this night. Even when the fourth quarter began with the Leopards up by 11 at 61-50, never did Clairton seem out of it.
And in the fourth quarter, the Bears rallied with a 21-9 run.
With 25 seconds left, Boyd made a basket that made it 71-70. Twice in the last 21 seconds, Lincoln Park had a chance to go ahead but failed to do so. With eight seconds left, point guard Antonio Kellem drove the lane and threw up either an air ball or perhaps a pass intended for Minnie. Either way, it was a botched possession.
Then, after Clairton’s Byron Clifford missed the front end of a one-and-one foul situation with six seconds left, Minnie missed on his long-range 3-pointer.
“That last shot … it haunts me right now,” said Minnie, who scored a game-high 24 points. “It’s going to haunt me for probably the rest of the season and probably next season.”
It would serve Minnie well to put that missed shot behind him as soon as possible. Lincoln Park’s season isn’t over. They won’t repeat as WPIAL champs, but they still have the PIAA playoffs to look forward to. That tournament begins next weekend.
From a more moderate reporter:
A little blogging music Maestro... "We Will Rock you" by Queen.