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May Day tradition lives on in Springdale

| Sunday, May 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Students from Mary Theresa Muto’s first-grade class at Acmetonia Elementary School wrap the traditional pole during the May Pole dance in front of the Springdale High School May Court during the Allegheny Valley School District’s May Day celebration Saturday, May 4, 2013, in the high school auditorium.
Courtesy of Springdale High School
The 1944 Springdale High School May Day Senior Queen, Betty Hrivnak, and Junior Queen Helen Liko.
Courtesy of Springdale High School
The 1976 May Day senior court from Springdale: Front row, senior page Billy Michalak (left) and flower girl Melissa Thomn. Back row, Stuart Hall (left), Liane Simonetti, Randy Runyan, Maureen Hurley, queen Kathy Miller, king Gordon Taylor, Christine Carroll, John Durkot, Darlene Grieb and Steve Yacopec.

The Springdale community came together Saturday to celebrate a tradition so old many can only guess at its longevity.

May Day, held in the auditorium in Springdale Junior-Senior High School, stands as unique in the Allegheny-Kiski Valley. In the mid-1900s, virtually every school and town had a May Day event.

Now, they're virtually unheard of in southwestern Pennsylvania. Organizers say they are aware of only one other regional school district, Mars Area in Butler County, that has such an event.

“Everyone comes. It's known all over town,” said 2012 graduate Corey Strawoet. “It's one of the biggest events in Springdale.”

The earliest written record of Springdale's May Day, found in a borough history book, puts 2013 as the 80th celebration. But some people believe it's older than that, district spokeswoman Jan Zastawniak said.

“It is a celebration of spring,” said Karen Furyk, a family and consumer science teacher who has been the May Day sponsor for more than 20 years. She said the event dates to the 1920s.

“My mother graduated from here in 1938. There was a May Day then,” she said.

Members of the May Day Court are chosen by a vote of the junior class. The king and queen of last year's court, today's seniors, pass their crowns to their successors.

Being chosen for the court is a big deal among the students, said Ryan Matisko, another 2012 graduate. A freshman at Slippery Rock University, he was on the court last year; his brother, Matthew, was on this year's junior court.

“It's quite an honor to be on the court,” Ryan Matisko said, then recalled the work that came with it. “During the week leading up to it, it was pretty stressful. Now to look back on it, it was pretty cool to be a part of.”

The tradition runs through families.

“There are people on the court whose grandmothers and grandfathers, great-uncles and great-aunts, were on the court years ago,” Furyk said.

Ryan Matisko's grandmother, Marcella Matisko, was a May Queen. She said her mother had wanted her to be a queen.

“To me it's just an honor to be elected,” she said. “It's something no other place has. I'm proud and happy my own family has been on it.”

The program includes music and dance performances, including the traditional “May Pole Dance,” performed by Acmetonia first-grade students. Seniors dance with their parents, and the senior boys perform a skit, the content of which is a closely guarded secret.

“Even I don't know what it is,” said Nancy Metkler, whose son, Zachary Metkler, was on the senior court. “Every year they try to outdo the year before.”

This year's May Day celebration carried the theme of “Cityscape in May.” The stage was decorated as a park, and the sounds of birds were in the air.

“The whole school gets involved in this. From a very early time, these kids want to be in May Day,” Allegheny Valley school board member Glenna Renaldi said. “It's almost a rite of passing now.”

Jeannine McCutcheon, a 1984 graduate, was a May Queen. She said the event goes back to the community's immigrant roots.

“It was a day to be fancy — put on your best dresses, the boys wore tuxes,” she said.”It was a day to dress up. You don't get to do that in high school.”

When she brought up May Day at work, Nancy Metkler said no one knew what she was talking about.

“It's just tradition. Our school is big on tradition,” she said. “We have a lot of traditions in the school district and they carry on through the years.

“It brings everybody together. It keeps everybody together.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 orbrittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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