Connellsville — 1990s until now: Years of great sports, bad blizzards and hope on the horizon
EDITOR'S NOTE: Today, the Daily Courier continues “The Way We Were,” followed by “Where We're Headed,” a series of articles tracing Connellsville's past through the eyes of residents who lived it. From the 1930s through the New Millennium, “The Way We Were” will give a human perspective of Connellsville's boomtown years as well as its hard times and will end with a flourish, focusing on good news — we hope — for the future of our town in particular and Southwestern Pennsylvania in general. The series will run throughout December.
The 1990s was a great sports decade for the Connellsville area. High school wrestler Kevin Saniga won the national title in 1990 and 1993. The Falcon football team defeated Upper St. Clair in 1991 for the WPIAL Quad A Championship, coached by longtime gridironer Dan Spanish. Geibel's girls' basketball team snagged several WPIAL AA championships, too.
The Falcons' wrestling squad pinned its way to two WPIAL championships in the 1990s, and Connellsville Little League went to the state championship in 1993. In 1997, the Lady Falcons softball team won its first WPIAL championship, defeating Franklin Regional 2-1. As a capper, Penn State University won the coveted Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 1995.
Mother Nature dumped two blizzards on the Fay-West area, the first in March 1993, the second in January 1996, which resulted in the flooding of West Side Connellsville when the Youghiogheny River crested at 21 feet — nine feet about flood level.
Decade of the trail
Bike trail construction was in the full swing during the 1990s. In July 1995, official opening ceremonies were held at Yough River Park for a section of Yough River Trail between Connellsville and Ohiopyle State Park. Trail work continued north from Connellsville toward Dawson and Layton. By June 2013, the path — now called the Great Allegheny Passage — extended from Point State Park in Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. At Cumberland, it links with the C&O Canal Towpath Trail to Washington, D.C.
The 1990s saw the startup of Sony Manufacturing, at the site of the former Volkswagen of America plant near New Stanton. The industry flourished for more than a decade, manufacturing large screen televisions, until an economical downtown shuttered the plant in 2008.
In the mid-1990s, the first refurbished combat vehicles rolled off the lines at United Defense (now BAE Systems) along Route 119 near Penn State's Fayette/Eberly Campus. BAE continued to turn out military vehicles and equipment throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will finally be phased out at the end of this year.
There were tragedies during the 1990s, such as the 1992 death of bride-to-be Beverly Davis of Mt. Pleasant, who was killed the day before her wedding by a tour bus at the intersection of Route 119 and Kingview Road. With her was her mother, Betty Davis. In 1994, 131 people died in a jet crash near Aliquippa — four of them from Fayette County. On New Year's Day 1999, Deana K. Mitts, 24, and her young daughter, Kayla, were killed in an explosion at the Rose Square Apartments in Connellsville.
Economically, Connellsville remained stable but stagnant during the 1990s and into the New Millennium. However, positive things have happened in recent years — accelerated cleanup of blight, refurbishment of parks and buildings, new development of such things as the vacant Aaron's Building and plans for a hotel. New businesses have opened, especially during the past several years, and others are on the horizon.
A new year is right around the corner, one which city officials believe will bring better times with it.
Tuesday: Former mayor, James Wagner, muses about city's past, future.
Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.