Depression-era work produced Donora facility
Part 2 of 2
The opening of Donora High School's new football facility, Legion Field, preceded the formal dedication of the new school in 1930.
While the stadium opened on Sept. 27, the school was dedicated on Dec. 19, 1930, but in actuality, as longtime educator Charles E. Stacey explained in Donora's excellent centennial book in 2001, “the building was never completed as originally planned.
“The building was to be a T-shaped structure, but the onset of the Great Depression created serious financial problems for the school district,” recalled Stacey, a retired superintendent of the Ringgold School District. “Therefore, the two wings on the western side of the building that were to complete the T configuration were never constructed. This explains why the facade on the rear of the building and the sides toward the rear are not finished with the brown bricks that cover most of the structure.
“In addition,” Stacey said, “the balcony planned for the auditorium was never built in order to save money. Because the building was not as large as originally planned, it was to be used exclusively as a high school.
“The junior high was to remain in the First Street School. The only major addition to the high school was construction in the mid 1970s ... a large industrial arts room was added to the rear of the building. When the high school was converted to an elementary center, this space was transformed into an art room.”
Introduction of Legion Field was good news to football fans throughout the Mon Valley.
Donora High's last game at Palmer Park, home to the football team for many years, was on Nov. 23, 1929. Some 3,000 fans watched the Dragons lose to Redstone, 8-0.
In the wake of that farewell to Palmer Park The Charleroi Mail reported that Charleroi and Donora would resume football relations after several years on Oct. 25, 1930.
“(Charleroi) Faculty manager James McConnell announced ... all negotiations had been concluded and the arrangement for the game gave Donora a definite place for Charleroi on its schedule next year,” the newspaper said. “Next season Donora will introduce a new stadium ... sponsored and built under American Legion direction there.”
The Mail said Donora had been in a “shortage position” (for opponents) for some years because of “an inadequate football field, so far as a proper park was concerned.
“The movement for and construction of the new stadium puts Donora on a par with Charleroi, Monongahela, Monessen, California and most towns in this district, so far as a field is concerned. It now permits Charleroi to resume relations with the down river town in the local array of opponents for next season.”
Legion Field became more than an adequate facility in the years that followed its grand opening.
Some of the most outstanding athletes (in various sports) in Donora, Mon Valley, WPIAL and state history played there. Some of the most legendary coaches guided their teams at Legion Field. Some of the top high school bands ever produced in this district displayed their talents on that turf. And some of the most loyal and vociferous fans packed the stadium and followed the lead of the spirited cheerleaders on the sidelines.
The last football game for a Donora team at Legion Field was played on Oct. 23, 1968. The Griffey brothers, George “Ken” and Fred, teamed up for three touchdowns and Malcolm Lomax added the others and kicked four extra points as the Dragons rolled over Braddock, 34-0.
It was the final game under the DHS banner because the Dragons and Monongahela were to merge for one Ringgold School District athletic program in 1969. Ringgold home games, however, would be played at Legion Field.
The victory over Braddock gave coach Rudy Andabaker's Dragons a 7-0-0 mark for the season and extended their two-year unbeaten streak to 16 games.
Only 1,000 fans braved a steady rain and watched Ken Griffey score three touchdowns on passes from his brother Fred, Donora's quarterback.
Griffey scores final TD
Griffey scored the final Donora touchdown in history at Legion Field on an electrifying 84-yard pass-run play with his brother in the fourth quarter. Lomax kicked the point after to become the last Dragon to score a point there and also the final point in Donora's formal football history, which began in 1914.
Ringgold played home games at Legion Field in 1986 against Schenley, Brownsville Area, West Mifflin, Thomas Jefferson and Belle Vernon Area before making its debut at the new Ringgold Stadium on Route 136 in Carroll Township on Oct. 31 against Uniontown. The Oct. 17 game with Belle Vernon Area marked the end of any Donora-related high school games at Legion Field.
Ringgold's first game at the new facility (now called Joe Montana Stadium) resulted in a 28-18 loss to Uniontown.The Rams' debut at the new site had been delayed because of final construction projects.
Mon Valley Catholic High School also played its home games at Legion Field in 1986 and closed the book on scholastic football there in a game against Springdale on Oct. 24. The Spartans played their home games at a field adjacent to the high school in Carroll Township in 1987 and 1988. The school closed at the end of the 1988-89 term.
On Sept. 1, 1989 Legion Field was renamed James K. Russell Field in honor of the successful and revered coach and teacher who had guided Donora football teams for 34 years (1931-1964).
The Ringgold School Board had approved the new designation earlier in the year as a tribute to his “many contributions to the educational system and athletic tradition of Donora High School.”
The board's proclamation also emphasized that it was Russell's idea to take pieces of sod from Legion Field and Wildcat Stadium, home of Monongahela High's football teams before the merger that created Ringgold School District, and plant them side by side on the 50-yard line at the new Ringgold stadium as a symbol of togetherness.
The sods were planted by school board president George Buell and Athletic Director Paul Zolak at the formal dedication of the new stadium on Aug. 25, 1987.
A committee comprised of Superintendent of Schools Charles E. Stacey, Zolak and school board member Richard Mongelluzzo led the planning for the Sept. 1, 1989 festivities renaming Legion Field at halftime of the game between Ringgold and Derry Area at the RHS stadium.
Russell, 82, had been a patient at Monongahela Valley Hospital for several days but was released earlier in the day so he could attend the ceremonies. Many of his former players, assistant coaches, student managers and former opposing coaches attended the event and a post-game gathering in the Ringgold cafeteria.
Addressing the appreciative crowd after receiving a standing ovation, Russell said, “Tonight ... this stadium ... I am the luckiest man in the world.”
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Learn how to build a financial pyramid
- Dugan, Pascarella selected for IUP’s Hall of Fame
- Rostraver woman victim of home invasion
- Fallowfield native dies in Nebraska crash
- Mon Valley towns hosting annual Halloween parades
- Scheduling latest problem for Mon Valley police
- New Eagle woman sentenced for animal cruelty
- Charleroi Area putting comprehensive plan together
- Charleroi mayor updates progress on master plan
- Allegheny official sees bright future
- Charleroi football player turns tragedy into triumph