Aliquippa and Clairton athletic success a testament to their steel mill heritage

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by Timothy Cox

AUGUSTA, Ga.—Hey Folks! I got a chance to watch some WPIAL high school playoff football last week, even though I live about 600 miles from Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Thanks to modern technology via satellite waves transmitted through the auspices of Root Sports Pittsburgh TV, I got a chance to watch two of the premier high school football programs in the state of Pennsylvania—again, via my DISH Network satellite programming in my Augusta, Georgia living room.

Tomthy
TIMOTHY COX

On Thanksgiving Friday, the Clairton Bears soundly defeated Sto-Rox, 58-21, to win their 10th WPIAL AA football title, while the Aliquippa Quips destroyed the Washington Little Prexies by a score of 34-7. Even though the Prexies were led by sure-fire, Division-I running back Shai McKenzie, the Quips’ smothering defensive presence easily shut down McKenzie’s pursuits.

The victory earned the Quips a 15th WPIAL crown, which represents the most WPIAL football titles of any team in history. Current players like Malik Shegog, Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson now join the ranks of past Quips who have gone onto NFL acclaim; Men like Sean Gilbert (Rams), Ty Law (Patriots), Darrelle Revis (Jets) Tommie Campbell (Titans) and Jonathan Baldwin (Chiefs). Tony Dorsett lived in Aliquippa but played football at neighboring Hopewell High School.

Meanwhile, Clairton with its 10 WPIAL titles, are in second place next to the Quips. Clairton is also currently experiencing an impressive run of 60 consecutive victories—a state record and by some accounts, a national record.

Sixty straight victories—Wow!

The Bears have also won five consecutive WPIAL Class A titles and are vying for four consecutive PIAA Class A crowns. The Quips have won two consecutive WPIAL Class AA crowns.

The primary purpose of this column is to congratulate the Aliquippa and Clairton athletic programs for their continuous success, though it’s well documented that both communities have experienced their share of havoc during the past 30 years. Thirty years is significant because both Aliquippa and Clairton are communities that are built on the foundation of many hard-working men and women who plied their trade in the steel mills of these respective cities.

Specifically, many of the current Clairton players’ ancestors have worked at the Clairton Coke Works, while Aliquippa players’ forefathers’ have earned their living working at Jones & Laughlin (J&L) Steel. Both companies were owned by the U.S. Steel Corporation.

By the early 1980s, however, it’s well documented that the steel mill industry experienced a fast and ill-fated decline due to cheaper labor costs in overseas markets, which resulted in U.S. Steel Corp. taking many of its good-paying steel mill gigs away from Clairton and Aliquippa.

It’s a familiar story for many of us, and it has impacted our entire region, including towns like Midland, Beaver Falls, Monessen, Duquesne, Braddock, Homestead and of course inner-city Pittsburgh neighborhoods like Homewood, Manchester, Garfield, Wilkinsburg, East Liberty, the West End and more. That being said—for those of us seasoned enough to recall, we wonder if city schools will ever achieve their once prideful past in terms of athletic success; when Westinghouse football ruled the gridiron and Schenley, Peabody and Fifth Avenue (Brashear) were high achievers on the hard-court.

These days, Aliquippa and Clairton’s consistent and current athletic success is worthy of mention because somehow these two once-thriving steel towns having continued to find athletic achievement even though both schools have suffered massive population decreases—primarily during the aforementioned 30-year period of steel mill job losses which unfortunately resulted in high crime, blighted housing conditions and a decreased tax base.

When the jobs left, many families were forced to reevaluate their lifestyles – which too often resulted in relocation activity by many Western Pa. residents, including those from Aliquippa and Clairton.

So, we congratulate the ongoing athletic success (football and basketball) that’s occurring in both Aliquippa and Clairton. Both teams are champions in their own respective divisions and we hope both squads can continue to win, earn 2012 state championship titles, and bring the trophies back to Western Pa., where we will forever be the City of Champions.

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