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Bears' epic 66-game winning streak buoyed all of Clairton

| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 2:05 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Plumes of smoke from the U.S. Steel Clairton Works are visible from the top of the Clairton Bears' stadium as the Friday evening game begins. Cheering are Bears fans Robin Melvin (front), 35, Harry Ellis (below), 62, and Kenny Willis (behind), 55, all of Clairton.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Freshman Lamont Wade, 14, crouches on the Bears' home field as Monessen celebrates its win in the end zone behind him Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 in Clairton. Wade's family connection to the school stretches to the 1940s, with his grandfather, uncles and cousins all playing for the Bears over the decades. The scoreboard at the end of the game read Home 24, Visitor 42, as coach Tom Nola gathered the Bears in its glow to pray together.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Clairton cheerleader Maya Pettiford, 17, watches as the Bears slip further behind Monessen in the second half. The Bears had not lost a game at their home field since 2005. “This has been an incredible run that may not be seen again in this area in some time, if ever,' said PA announcer Jim Wessel with 3:22 remaining in the game. 'Congratulations to Monessen on the win and being the team to end the streak.”
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Clairton Bears football players rest on air mattresses in the locker room before their game on Friday, September 20, 2013. Coach Tom Nola sets aside a block of time after school and before the game for students to have about an hour of lights-out relaxation time to nap, do homework or just be calm.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
After the final bell at school Friday, junior Jaquan Ford (center) joins his fellow Clairton football players in the school cafeteria for a meal. With no grocery store in the city and the majority of students at the combined elementary, middle, and high school eligible for government food assistance, many on the team might play with an empty stomach with the school meal.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Clairton fans and former Bears players react from the stands as Monessen extends its lead against Clairton in the second half of the game Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Clairton's football tradition runs generations deep, with sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and grandfathers who were once out on the field in black and orange now watching intently from the stands and sidelines.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The Bears listen to assistant coach Wayne Wade talk at halftime in the locker room at Neil C. Brown Stadium on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. The Bears trailed 14-0 at halftime to the team that started their record-breaking winning streak, when they beat Monessen 46-0 in September 2009.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Children line up to touch each player climbing the locker room steps as they take the field after halftime in Clairton on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Freshman Noah Hamlin (left) and junior Khalil Berry in the Bears locker room at halftime. The Bears only have one starting senior this year, with their roster getting hit hard by last year's graduation.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The Clairton Bears marching band and dance team, the Honey Bears, makes its way to the stadium for the Friday night football game as a crowd of people line the streets of downtown Clairton to cheer them on. With the longest active winning streak in the nation before Friday's game and four straight state championships, the team has become a rallying point for a city struggling under its 25th year as a state designated 'distressed municipality.'

From the City of Prayer, there came an answer: The Clairton Bears, the WPIAL's most dominant team in decades and a welcome distraction for a depressed steel town and a distressed school district.

During a 66-game stretch that ranked as the nation's longest high school football winning streak and broke Pennsylvania state records for consecutive victories, Clairton captured the fascination of fans everywhere.

With every win, every WPIAL and PIAA Class A title accumulated along the way, the Bears brought back pride, prominence and promise of better days ahead. For the tiny town of Clairton, every Friday night was a celebration — not just of the players, but everyone in black and orange: from the band and cheerleaders who marched up Miller Avenue to Neil C. Brown Stadium to the pee-wee players dreaming of being Bears one day.

The streak started in September 2009 and would last four years and nine days. During that span, Clairton won four district and four state titles, broke Braddock's 51-year-old WPIAL record and Central Bucks West's 12-year-old state mark for consecutive victories.

Then, last Friday, the streak ended at the hands of the same school against which it began. Monessen's Greyhounds took a 14-0 halftime lead and a 28-point advantage in the fourth quarter. It was a role reversal for Clairton, long accustomed to overpowering opponents.

Now, it was on the wrong end of a 42-24 final score. The streak was over, and the Bears were left in tears.

“This just goes to show how incredible our streak was,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “We played bad, and Monessen was great. But I'm proud of what we did and of what the team accomplished.”

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