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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Clairton Wins 39 Straight Games Tying a Pennsylvania State Record

Every morning when I read the New York Times - I enjoy looking for strange stories. This quote led me on a wild goose chase on this Thanksgiving morning.

"It seems the odds are stacked against the town. Football is a way we can persevere, ride the success of the team."
TOM MCCLOSKEY, the principal at Clairton High School, which has won 59 consecutive games, tying a Pennsylvania state record.

Clairton High School is not much different from where I spent my entire 33 year teaching career.

All across America downtowns look like this.

I lived in Pennsylvania 55 years and never heard to Clairton. It is about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River - a river flowing north to Pittsburgh lined with towns immersed in the steel industry. 

In 1978 - the movie Deer Hunter was set in Clairton. In the movie Robert De Niro was a soldier that came home from the Vietnam War as damaged goods. He returned to the "City of Prayer" that defied the Supreme Court by having public school students pray every morning. 

Robert De Niro as The Deer Hunter could have been my uncle "Wib"

At one time 25,000 people lived here surviving on the coke industry. Looking at it now might bring to mind another kind of coke. The coke we are talking about here is a fuel. You take soft coal - put it in an oven - bake it - and after a lot smelly harmful fumes - it turns to coke. Coke is to coal what charcoal is to wood. It is one of the three big items needed to make steel - - iron ore - limestone - coke.

The coke ovens along the Monongahela River.

Today most of the steel mills moved overseas and Clairton has dwindled down to 6700 people. 80% of them are white - 20% black. Of those about 20% are Italian - 10% German - 10% Irish - 10% Slovak. If they had to claim a religion - it was probably be 50% Catholic - 50% Protestant. The median household income is $25,000. It could be a carbon copy right out of Schuylkill County.

Substitute the word coal for coke above and you have a place much like where I grew up and lived. I was the local science teacher for 33 years. My kids - my wife - my sisters - and I all went to the same high school. My wife was a teacher there. Now we all live elsewhere. 

My kids were the first to leave - they went to big fancy colleges and there was nothing for them to return to. They now live in Richmond and Washington DC. We moved to Tallahassee 8 years ago when my wife became a Florida State professor. 

We will be away from family for Thanksgiving - a couple of misfits invited by friends to sit at the big table today to give thanks. Almost everybody watches some football on this day. Although I never set foot in Clairton PA - I never met a "Clairtoner" - but on this day they are all part of my family.

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