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Burrell H.S. to celebrate 50th graduating class

| Saturday, May 24, 2014, 1:11 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
From left, Burrell High School juniors Brittney Wolford, Katie Awes and Mary Jo Palko work atop a trailer at Bon Air Elementary School to create a float announcing Burrell's 50th graduating class in 2015, as seen on Thursday, May 22, 2014. The float will be part of the Memorial Day parade through Lower Burrell on Monday.

A year early, Burrell High School's Class of 2015 is beginning to celebrate its place in history as the district's 50th graduating class.

Juniors Mary Jo Palko, Katelyn Awes and Brittney Wolford are working with administrators and alumni from the district's first graduating class in 1966 to plan activities for next school year to recognize the milestone.

The group decorated a float in Burrell's colors of navy blue, powder blue and white and will participate in Lower Burrell's Memorial Day parade on Monday.

Students from several grades will distribute candy and “save the date” fliers for the fall's homecoming events and next year's graduation ceremony.

“It's like advertising for the big weekend,” said Palko, the junior class president.

“The main goal is getting the word out,” said Assistant Superintendent Matt Conner, who will have a cameo role in the parade as Burrell's Buccaneer mascot.

Homecoming weekend, Oct. 3 and 4, will include a bonfire, pep rally, car cruise, tours of the high school and Huston Middle School, a craft fair and the crowning of the homecoming king and queen.

Space will be provided on high school grounds for every class to set up a tent and have a mini reunion.

“The goal is to get people who have not been around to participate,” said high school Principal John Boylan.

The Burrell Bucs will play the team's 500th football game with a special half-time presentation. They'll face Kittanning — the first opponent to play at Buccaneer Stadium.

Conner said the district is seeking Burrell memorabilia, including sports uniforms, to display. There are plans for a video montage of students and the school through the years.

“It's kind of cool that we're the 50th class because we get some insight on how things were,” said Palko.

‘Bursting at the seams'

Dr. Jim Minford of Upper Burrell, Palko's predecessor as the president of the Class of 1966, can share plenty of that insight.

Minford, 66, recalls an overflowing Burrell School District.

He said Lower Burrell's five elementary schools were being expanded during his years there. He remembered having a class in a basement storage room at the Wills elementary school in Kinloch, where ceiling pipes would block his view of the teacher's head.

“We were bursting at the seams,” Minford said. “There were more students than they knew what to do with.”

Since the high school didn't open until 1964, Burrell students initially were farmed out to New Kensington and Arnold high schools. After those two schools started to fill up, some Burrell students also were sent to the new Kiski Area High School.

Since the students at Kiski Area had to graduate from that school, there were no Burrell graduates in 1965 even though the school was open.

The halls of Burrell High School still reflect Minford's connection to the district: his letter jacket, earned for swimming, is in a glass case near the auditorium, and a plaque honoring the school board that built the high school includes his father, also named James D. Minford.

His younger brother, Dr. John Kent Minford, and his two children, Connor and Megan, also are graduates.

His wife, Cathy, graduated from Valley High School: “But I never hold that against her.

“I very much like Burrell as a district,” said Minford. “I thought I got an excellent education. I had two kids that both graduated from Burrell, and I thought they both did very well.”

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