Top 10 Western Pa. stadiums create atmosphere
By Jerry DiPaola
Published: Saturday, Aug. 28, 2010
These are the palaces, the places where Western Pennsylvania high school football is played in all its frenzy and glory. Six-year-old boys come to games at these stadiums and dream of the day when they can step on that field wearing a helmet and shoulder pads, in front of a packed house. Some of those boys wind up living that dream. Today, we take a look at the greatest high school football stadiums in Western Pennsylvania:
1. Wolvarena, Woodland Hills
Recognized by USA Today in 2001 as one of the top 10 high school stadiums in the nation, the Wolvarena seats 12,000, according to athletic director and football coach George Novak. The steep concrete bleachers opposite the press box have enough room for 9,000 people. Novak said of the view from the top (50th) row: "You can't find a better seat in high school football." Without a track encircling the field, fans in the first few rows are unusually close to the action. Then there is this: Woodland Hills wins there -- 96-23 since the school was established in 1987.
2. The Pit, Aliquippa
The Pit may be the most intimidating venue in the WPIAL -- thanks to a horse named Cinnamon. For the better part of the past three decades at Aliquippa home games, a man dressed like an Indian warrior rides a horse onto the field and hurls a flaming spear to the ground on the 50-yard line -- sometimes close to the opposing bench, if he is in a mood to rile the other team. Mark Swan has been the rider for the past 15 years after inheriting the job from the late Dino "Tuffy" Guerrieri, his son Dino Jr. and the original horse, Chief. There have been a few complaints from opposing schools, including one wondering about the wisdom of carrying a weapon onto school property. But Swan and Dino Jr. said they never heard a whisper of protest from Native American groups. "My dad believed that was his turf," Dino Jr. said. Swan was asked to appear at Monaca Indians game but refused -- too close to home. He did make a cameo for a North Hills Indians game against North Allegheny. When he rode too close to the Tigers' bench, Swan said, "They shouted stuff I don't think high school kids should have been saying."
3. Martorelli Stadium, North Hills
There may be no more loyal fans in the WPIAL than Martorelli Stadium's Rowdie Rooters, who have been gathering at a Park Avenue house in Ross Township for almost every home game since 1977. "If the team is winning, it's easy to have 75 or 100 people," said Tim Szalinski, who has been a member for 26 years. "If it's a bad year, there will be 30 or 40 people who will come regardless of the weather conditions or how the team is doing." Complaints have been few, although Szalinski said Penn-Trafford once complained about the siren, and game officials made the Rooters shut it down just for that game. The stadium is named after longtime athletic director Mario Martorelli.
4. Pine-Richland Stadium, Pine-Richland
Pine-Richland's football stadium, which cost $7 million, stands out from others for several reasons. One, it has two ways in and two ways out. "We can get crowds out in about 20 minutes," athletic director and football coach Clair Altemus said. Two, the first touchdown was scored in 2001 by sophomore wide receiver Neil Walker, the current Pirates second baseman whose No. 24 high school jersey is now retired. Three, capacity is 10,000 people, including 3,200 standing room. When Pine-Richland played in Class AAA, the stadium gave the Rams a distinct home-field advantage, with only three losses in seven seasons. Class AAAA teams are not quite as intimidated, and Pine-Richland was 4-5 at home in 2008 and 2009. Altemus said the Pro Grass playing surface lessens injuries. A 3/4-inch layer of rubber sits below the teflon-coated grasslike fibers that allow cleats to slide through, rather than getting caught in the turf. "It has cut way down on injuries," he said.
5. Moe Rubinstein Stadium, Ambridge
Athletic director Randy Cosgrove compares his stadium to Forbes Field. "It's right in an urban setting downtown, so you get a different buzz on game night than from a stadium out in the middle of a community," he said. Built in 1932, it was named after the former Ambridge coach who had a 158-42 record from 1932-1950. New bleachers and a press box were built last year, and the stadium, which seats 5,000, is often the site for WPIAL playoff games.
6. Carl A. Newman Stadium, North Allegheny
When the game is important, the opponent is competitive and the weather cooperates, North Allegheny can pack nearly 10,000 people into Newman Stadium. Named for a former superintendent, Newman seats 5,000 people on the home side, 2,500 on the other, and fans who get there late don't mind standing. Newman is host for several postseason games. Among those that stand out for athletic director Bob Buzzuto is the 2002 Class AAA PIAA semifinal between the Hopewell team of Paul Posluszny and City League champion Perry, which hadn't given up a point all season. Hopewell won, 20-3, on its way to a state title and Bozzuto said fans were standing near the tennis courts, about 200 yards away.
7. South Fayette Stadium, South Fayette
Athletic director Joe Farkas doesn't want to brag about his facility, urging people to see it with their own eyes. "You would have to see it to believe it," he said. The press box includes space for media, announcers, coaches and meetings and also houses eight administrative offices, giving Dr. Bille Rondinelli, the superintendent, easy access to one of his richest investments. The price tag for the school's four-year-old athletic complex, including the 5,000-seat stadium, four locker rooms, a weight room, classroom and coaches' suite, plus a softball stadium and adjoining practice field, was $12 million, Farkas said.
8. George K. Cupples Stadium, City League
Count Schenley coach Jason Bell among those who didn't mind that the City League championship game was moved out of Heinz Field last season. And not just because Schenley beat Oliver. "It's a more intimate setting; fans are closer to the field," he said, adding that players initially complained about the move to East Carson Street on the South Side but now welcome it. Named after a former City League director of athletics, coach and teacher, Cupples is home to all City League games, and the title game returns this season.
9. Reeves Field, Beaver Falls
Beaver Falls coach Ryan Matsook doesn't mind sharing a home field with Geneva College. "It is our home, and we embrace it as such," he said. Beaver Falls claims partial ownership of Reeves field (capacity 7,500), thanks in part to the initials BF painted on the 19 -- significant because that was the number worn by Beaver Falls great Joe Namath. The flags around the stadium are either gold and white (Geneva) or orange and black (Beaver Falls), depending on the home team.
10. Dormont Memorial Stadium, Bishop Canevin and Keystone Oaks
Bishop Canevin coach Bob Jacoby remembers the final game at Dormont Memorial Stadium on Oct. 29, 2004, before the current Field Turf was installed. "There was no grass left, all mud," said Jacoby, who guided Bishop Canevin to a victory against Riverview that night. "They came the next Monday and started tearing it up." Bishop Canevin has shared the 60-year-old, 5,000-seat facility with its landlord, Keystone Oaks, since 1975, and they coexist like brothers. Seton-La Salle made it three teams for a short time about two decades ago. The only blip is an occasional Saturday night game for Bishop Canevin, of which there is only one this season -- Oct. 16 against Leechburg. "It gives everybody in the conference a chance to see us play," said Jacoby, who prefers the more regimented Friday night routine. "But we can get out Friday nights and see them, too."Additional Information:
Other stadiums that could have made this list:
McKee Stadium, Jeannette
Latrobe Memorial Stadium, Latrobe
Tony Dorsett Stadium, Hopewell
Offutt Stadium, Greensburg Salem
Bill Abraham Field at Spartan Stadium, HempfieldAdditional Information:
At The Pit, an Indian warrior rides a horse onto the Aliquippa High School field and throws a flaming spear into the ground. Once, the Blackhawk Cougar mascot rode a scooter onto the field and tried to douse the flame with water. The fire flickered, then roared back to life as the warrior and his horse chased the Cougar off the field, to the delight of the crowd.
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