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Homecoming evokes memories for Arnold grads

| Sunday, July 4, 2010

Much has changed at the former Arnold High School, but that didn't stop the building from evoking memories for the dozens of graduates visiting on Saturday.

Now Valley Middle School, the building was opened for tours during the All-Arnold Reunion and Homecoming, which continues today. The school also hosted a banquet honoring former Arnold High football coach Frank Martin.

Martin, who celebrated his 85th birthday yesterday, manned the tour sign-in booth in what graduates said was once the largest high school gym in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

"I keep an eye on it," Martin said of the Alcoa Drive school. "I live right across the street."

He grinned as former students and players lauded his successful years as head football coach from 1956 to 1965, including an undefeated season in 1964 and several years with only one loss each.

"For four or five years, we had a pretty good record," said Martin, a history teacher who went on to coach at Burrell and Highlands before retiring from education in 1979. "They were good teams."

Martin graduated from Arnold High School in 1944. He recalled playing against bitter rival New Kensington High School in a standout 1943 football game.

"On the opening kickoff, they broke our quarterback's jaw," Martin said.

New Kensington and Arnold remained rivals until the late 1960s, when they consolidated into one school district. The merger of athletics began in 1967, but Arnold High School still graduated students until 1970.

Mike Rodites, an Arnold native now living in New Kensington, remembers the awkward football camp in the summer of 1967 when rival players suddenly were expected to play on the same team.

A 1968 Arnold High graduate, Rodites led a tour through the first two floors of the school.

Another tour guide was Tom Wilczek, New Kensington-Arnold's superintendent who retired in 2007 after more than 40 years with the district. Rodites recalled Wilczek's start as an art teacher helping plan Arnold High's prom.

Former students wandered from the original 1934 structure into newer sections, some of which were added during a renovation in the late 1990s when Rodites was on the school board.

Rodites said he was surprised at the time to learn there was a hidden indoor rifle range in the basement. It apparently was used by a successful rifle team in the 1940s.

"We never knew it was there," he said.

Rodites said other renovations included adding classrooms and moving the principal's office to a secure main entryway, which now is surrounded by metal detectors.

"Talk about a change in era," said 1954 Arnold graduate Nick Cignetti, who now lives in North Canton, Ohio.

Cignetti, who started attending Arnold High School in the seventh grade, recalled keeping a knife in his boot while hitchhiking to school from his Lower Burrell home. He and friends would stop at nearby Giuliani's Market for an after-school snack.

Cignetti was one of several visitors yesterday who had attended Stewart School in Lower Burrell before transferring to Arnold High. Burrell High School did not exist then.

Cignetti said he has returned to Arnold for several class reunions. He ate breakfast yesterday at Kings Family Restaurant in New Kensington with about 25 members of his graduating class.

"This place back then was what you could truly call home," he said.

Additional Information:

Homecoming events

The All-Arnold Reunion and Homecoming runs through today. A special emphasis is placed on Arnold High School graduates, but the festivities are open to anyone. For more information, visit here .

Additional Information:

Here's what is happening

• 10 a.m. to noon, 'Breakfast of Legends,' Clarion Hotel, New Kensington (reservation required).

• Noon to 4 p.m., farewell party at Roosevelt Park, Drey Street, Arnold.

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