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Gorman: New Castle fan ready to celebrate 700

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Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, 10:56 p.m.

As it nears a major milestone, there is some discrepancy over the number of victories by the all-time winningest program in WPIAL history.

While the National Federation of State High School Associations already counts New Castle as a member of its 700 club, with 701, the PIAA record book credits the Red Hurricanes with only 698 wins.

“We have a historian, and his count is 699,” New Castle athletic director Sam Flora said. “So, we're going to go with Joe because he's been accurate through the years and hasn't missed a New Castle football game in years.”

Joe Plant claims to have attended 621 consecutive New Castle games, missing only 17 since 1946 and none since '53. By his count, Plant has attended 673 games in his lifetime, “but they haven't all been wins.”

New Castle (0-1) started playing football in 1892, and celebrated its 600th victory a century later. This much is fact: The Red Hurricanes have since won 99 games.

Plant became the school's unofficial historian after the death of Dr. Ellis Hoffman, who revived the Lawrence County Historical Society and pored over newspaper microfilm to find football records.

“When I get involved in something, I have to know everything about it,” said Plant, 78, who spent 37 years at Youngstown Iron Sheet & Tube Co. “Between mine and Ellis Hoffman's count, I'd bet the farm on that. It's 699.”

If New Castle wins at Riverside Friday, the Red Hurricanes can lay claim to being the first WPIAL program and fifth in state history to join the 700 club.

There are few high school football fans like Plant. His mother wouldn't allow him to attend away games until his senior year, except for the 1949 WPIAL Class AAA final at Pitt Stadium, one of New Castle's 11 WPIAL championships.

“If you'd ask me my No. 1 game, that'd have to be it,” Plant said of the 8-7 victory over McKeesport. “I remember going down in a school bus. Where McKnight Road and Route 19 split, as far as the eye could see were yellow school buses from New Castle. We brought 10,000 fans.”

Plant went so far as to schedule his steel-mill shifts around its games.

“I told my boss, ‘I will work any horrible schedule you give me. Just give me 10 Fridays off in the fall,' ” he said. “I love high school football. I love the concept, the way it started out: My town versus your town.”

The Red Hurricanes have so many fans that Plant doesn't like being singled out. At a 25th class reunion, however, Dr. Anthony Mastrian couldn't resist and presented Plant with a gift.

“He gave me a case of suppositories,” Plant said, “and said, ‘Anybody who has been sitting on bleachers that long has to have hemorrhoids.' ”

Plant plans to attend Friday's game at Riverside, but will celebrate it by setting a 4:30 a.m. alarm on Saturday so he can fly to Phoenix for the wedding of his third son, David, in Sedona. Plant is missing the rehearsal dinner so he might see victory No. 700.

“That's what made this town great,” he said. “This town lived for New Castle football.”

So has Joe Plant.

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