Thursday, March 17, 2011

Athlete's Foot, Nose for Nickles and Dollars

Word to the wise:
If your feet smell and your nose runs, you’re upside down
Five ways to preserve our heritage

Preserving our heritage, One: For decades those of us who have lived in Clairton have smelled the odiferous compounds that emanated from the mills that lined the river. Then most of the mills went away leaving the Clairton Works and its 50-year old technology to spew toxins into the air; making the Clairton-Glassport area the third most polluted air-ea in the country, behind L.A. and St. Louis. Many of us ran for the hills and settled elsewhere but the sweet smell of quencher that needed to be wiped from the windshield while driving remains in our DNA.

Preserving our heritage, Two: One thing that never led to holding our noses was the Clairton High School football team. Over the years the rich culture of Clairton has seen a young man of Slavic heritage, Andy Berchock and Irish American Jim Kelly win All America honors, African-American Judge Dixon star at Minnesota and in the Rose Bowl game, son of Anglo-American Ron Lancaster become a legendary pro in Canada, and many, many more. In more recent years we have seen the Bears show their colors again by owning the WPIAL and in the past two consecutive years, winning the state championship. This year’s squad ran the opposition ragged by a total score of 702-34. That alone has to be some sort of record.

Preserving our heritage, Three: The sweet smell of victory. Typically professional teams who win the Super Bowl are rewarded with Super Bowl rings. College teams who win Bowl games are rewarded with Bowl rings, and high school teams who win state championships are rewarded with Championships rings. But in the case of the champion Clairton Bears, the school district ran out of money. Coaches agreed that the rings were deserved, so did the faculty and staff at the school. The community wanted no less for their team. Even the school board knew that the team deserved championship rings. But there simply was no money in the budget for non-academic spending.

Preserving our heritage, Four: A group of people who have the nose for making things right and call themselves the Clairton Athletic champions Club was cobbled together. It included a school board member and community members who decided that the Bears run to Hershey should be rewarded in the traditional way. So they took the ball and ran with it. It was no easy task. Money is tight in the best of times but in these troubled economic times it is often easier to squeeze the air from a football than to raise $11,000 for some fancy rings. The group pushed, pulled, and dragged every spare dollar they could find but time was running short and they’d just barely passed the halfway point to their goal. Enter the internet. Bev Alcorn, put out a clarion call on her Facebook page and yours truly sent out an S.O.S. on this blog. The call was literally heard around the world by current and former Clairton residents and CHS alumni. Checks began to pour in from Pennsylvania, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, California, the Carolinas…. Everywhere Clairton residents reside – and it turns out they live everywhere! Even non-residents who had never been in the city learned of the fund raiser through the wonders of electronic communication and chipped in. With more than a week to spare the goal has been met and with late checks still coming in it will be exceeded, with overflow monies going to other worthy targets such as new team jerseys and shoes.

Preserving our heritage, Five: Congratulations to all Clairton residents, non-residents and CHS alumni past and present for helping make the goal. Fundraising has moved a couple of inches in the scheme of things. Here is hoping it will move feet, yards, and miles in the future. Our community is economically depressed. Perhaps the response to the call that helped the football team become properly recognized will expand to restoring Clairton to the place it maintained in its glory days. Perhaps the example shown by people opening their hearts and wallets to the Bears this year will be shown in future development activities. Possibilities abound. But for now, thank you to each and every person who helped our team and their coaching staff get the recognition they earned. Keep your feet running and your nose smelling.

A little blogging music Maestro... “We Will rock You” by Queen.

Dr. Forgot

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Get your Bear-Rings


The virus was first identified in Robert White, a Philadelphia attorney who had graduated from Clairton High School more than a half century ago. He had gone in for a routine physical and everything appeared to be normal, but something about the “normal” call made the head doctor toss a red flag onto the examining room floor, thereby challenging the ruling. After several excruciating minutes with the team of doctors looking at a frame-by-frame replay of the results a third doctor was called in to give the final analysis. Upon further review it was determined that the strange cells had traces of Bear DNA and instead of being red and white, they were orange and black.

When word of this anomaly was leaked to others who had grown up in Clairton and attended Clairton High School, a pattern began to appear. Doctors called it B.E.A.R.S., or Best Ever Alumni Reaffirmation Syndrome. Symptoms include Loyalty to Clairton High School, Memories of good times, Pride in the athletic and academic achievement of alumni, and a sincere Desire to keep the Clairton tradition healthy and successful. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. Medical journals scrambled to be the first to write an article about the new discovery. The internet became abuzz with stories of Clairton High School alumni who had settled in all corners of the planet to bring success, creativity, spirituality and happiness wherever they went. Bloggers couldn’t get enough of the stories of CHS alumni and the tradition that to this day continues at the high school.

CHS alumni have become scholars, college presidents, elected officials, inventors, professional athletes, winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor, mill workers, breadwinners, housewives… the list of successful would fill an entire library. And they all have the B.E.A.R.S.

Meanwhile, back at the corner of St. Clair and Miller Avenues, much has changed since the days when the Clairton Works generated more coke than any other mill in the world. Most of the mills in the area are gone, storefronts are vacant, the population has shrunk by more than 50% from the heyday, and the city has struggled with many of the same problems that have faced other communities in the wake of the loss of the steel industry. Clairton High School, which once boasted graduating classes of more than 300 and spawned the building of other area high schools, now has a total enrollment of fewer than 100.

But at least three things have not changed about the City of Prayer. First is the high school’s proud and true athletic program. The football program that sent such greats as Andy Berchock to North Carolina where he became an All American, Jim Kelly to Notre Dame where he did the same, Ron Lancaster to Canada where he became a legendary player and coach earning the moniker, “The Little General,” Judge Dickson who went to Minnesota and became the MVP of the Rose Bowl, and later an attorney and a judge, and so many more who got their start at CHS and made an impact on the world.

The second thing that hasn’t changed is the deep loyalty of Clairton residents past and present. Whether it is Mrs. Lancaster who is in her 90s and has rarely missed a game or the former athletes, Honeybears, and students who proudly wear their BEAR DNA on their sleeves, the B.E.A.R. Syndrome lives. Whether locals who have remained in the area or ex-pats whose legion is so strong in Florida, for example, that they have an annual Clairton Alumni Reunion there, the Clairton Nation is everywhere.

The third thing that remains the same at CHS is their commitment to excellence. CHS is no longer one of the wealthier schools in the area, and certainly is not one of the largest. Their football team no longer plays in the 6-A, 5-A, or even 4-A class. But it has never been about the class in which they play, it has always been about the class with which they play. CHS which won their first WPIAL championship in 1929, have won four of the last five WPIAL championships and have been Pennsylvania State champs for the past two seasons. It is an amazing, unprecedented run for any team.

And what of the Clairton Virus? How has it affected the town and where does it fit into the scheme of things? Officials at Clairton High School decided that the team that won two consecutive state championships should be recognized in a way that has become traditional throughout the country – with each player and coach being awarded a commemorative ring designed especially for the winners. The players and coaches deserved no less. But the problem arose with the reality of a budget that could not even afford new uniforms or shoes, let alone championship rings. However, in typical Clairton fashion, that became only a minor deterrent as a Board Member called upon the CHS boosters, community, and alumni for help. And did they respond! The Clairton Virus spread throughout the Clairton Nation. Beverly Alcorn contacted all her classmates, Vinnie Ross put out a call to all his CHS alum relatives, Ethel Colton, Anna Marie Bochter, Bob White, Ron and Adele Kunz, and so many, many more rallied to help raise the funds for the rings. Donations even poured in from non-alumni who appreciated the underdog champs.

At this writing the goal has been more than 80% met, but donations are still needed to complete the project. Last year the Clairton Athletic Champions Club was able to purchase capes for the players to keep them warm as they stand on the sidelines in frigid weather. Should the fundraising goal for the rings be exceeded this year, monies will be used to buy new travel uniforms to replace the torn, tattered, repaired ones that the team currently wears. If you are able to provide any amount, please send your donation to:

Clairton Athletic Champions Club
c/o Sue Wessel
512 N. Sixth Street
Clairton, PA 15025

A little blogging music Maestro: How about Queen’s “We are the Champions.”

Dr. Forgot