Latrobe’s Steelers Fest attracts fans from afar for trophy shots, team-related fun
Big Ben and JuJu were among the attractions for fans with tickets to the Steelers’ Friday Night Lights practice at Latrobe’s Memorial Stadium.
Most who came Friday afternoon, for related Steelers Fest activities in an adjacent field, made a bee line for the team’s half dozen Lombardi trophies on display.
The Dave Morris clan of Lancaster was among those lining up to have their photo snapped with the Super Bowl trophies that are a source of pride for the Steelers Nation of fans.
“I think you’re just born to be a Steelers fan,” said Morris, who is originally from Saxonburg. “I’ve been a Steelers fan for 45 years, and this is my first time ever coming to training camp,” held at nearby Saint Vincent College in Unity.
Morris brought along his wife, Tricia, and their children, — Jillian, 12, Malachi, 9, Josiah, 7, and Uriah, 6 — with plans to stay for the nighttime Steelers practice.
“I just want to see the players live, see them up close and see my kids enjoy the Steelers like I did,” he said “I’ve got a son looking for James Conner, one for JuJu (Smith-Schuster) and one for Big Ben (Roethlisberger), and I’d like to see (Alejandro) Villanueva,” Morris said.
Frank Johnson III of Cinnaminson, N.J., attended Steelers Fest for the first time with his wife, Katie, whose family hails from Latrobe, their son, Gunnar, 8 months, and nephew Matthew Mershon, 10. The Black and Gold have been common ground for the couple from the start.
“I’ve been following the Steelers for 29 years,” said Johnson. “My father was a fan when he was a kid, and when we met, she was a fan, so that was kind of the connection.”
The visitors from New Jersey all agreed that JuJu is the Steelers player they most enjoy watching now. When it comes to an all-time Number One player, Katie Johnson votes for current quarterback Roethlisberger, but Frank’s pick is legendary 1970s Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert.
“He didn’t care who he hit, he just threw people down,” he said. “He actually played Steelers football.”
Bill Parfitt, his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren “took an obligatory family photo around the Super Bowl trophies. That was our first stop,” he said.
Now retired in Augusta, Ga., Parfitt “couldn’t talk my wife into coming, but the rest of the family is here.”
Parfitt has been “a Steelers fan as long as I can remember. Some part of my family has been living in East Pittsburgh since 1865.”
“It’s a great afternoon,” said Briana Tomack, president of the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, a sponsor of Steelers Fest. “I love the atmosphere. I love seeing all the people here to visit and have a good time. So far, we’ve talked to people from New Jersey, West Virginia and Ohio.”
Peter Tenerowicz, Unity Township emergency management director, was busy in advance of Friday, helping to organize parking volunteers for the event. On Friday, he came to enjoy Steelers Fest with his wife, Anita, and their two grandsons from Unity — Maddox Permuko, 8, and Xander Permuko, 10 — who tried out a climbing wall and a quarterback throw.
Said Anita, “It’s kind of a tradition every year,” capped off with watching a Zambelli fireworks display after the Memorial Stadium practice.
Weather in Latrobe got sketchier Friday as the afternoon proceeded. A lighting strike delayed the 3 p.m. start of the Gatorade Youth Training Camp at Steelers Fest. An autograph-signing session with Steelers alumni Jon Kolb and Arthur Moats was planned.
Most activities at Steelers Fest are free. Proceeds from the Friday night practice ticket sales benefit Greater Latrobe School District athletic programs.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .