Gateway to celebrate 50th anniversary of 1st WPIAL football championship
Friday, August 16, 2019 | 2:55 PM
As the United States was putting a man on the moon in the summer of 1969, the Gateway football program was preparing to hopefully put a Gator on the turf at Pitt Stadium in Oakland.
There was optimism heading into the campaign that Gateway would be able to reach the WPIAL Class AAA title game.
Gateway ran the table in the regular season and capped the fall with a 22-15 win over Altoona at the home of the Pitt Panthers for the program’s first WPIAL championship.
“We were a special team,” said Rich Hrenko, the team’s starting quarterback as a senior that season.
“A lot of us had played together since early in junior high, and we were told at that time we had something special. It kind of came to fruition (in 1969).
“We were like brothers. We were really close, and it showed on the field.”
This fall marks 50 years since that landmark title, and several members of that team will gather Friday evening with family and friends to celebrate the anniversary of the championship.
In addition to an early-evening reception, the team will be recognized and celebrated on the field before or at halftime of the current Gators’ Week Zero matchup with Mt. Lebanon at Antimarino Stadium.
“We had gotten together at class reunions but never as a team,” Hrenko said.
“I can’t believe it’s been 50 years since that season. I also have my 50th reunion next August. Looking back on that time, it seems like it was only five or 10 years ago. Time flies so fast. The hard part is realizing some of our teammates have passed, and a number of the coaches, too. We wish they could be there and share this with us.”
Randy Rovesti, Gateway’s athletic director and a senior starting right guard on the 1969 team, said close to a dozen former members are slated to be on hand for Friday’s festivities. The celebration will include a presentation on the video board of the new scoreboard.
It was a breakthrough championship for the program which was established a decade earlier with the merging of Monroeville and Pitcairn High Schools.
Players on the 1969 team were on a mission after falling short of the WPIAL title game a year before. The Gators were denied a perfect season in 1968 with a 7-6 loss to Penn Hills.
“We had a lot of extra incentive to not let something like that happen again,” Hrenko said.
Gateway scored at least 30 or more points in seven of their nine regular-season games, including 49 in a rout of Moon Township, and captured the West Penn Conference championship.
The Gators had to wait a number of weeks after the regular season to play for the WPIAL championship. Gardner Points decided who would play for the crown as opposed to the current playoff system, so an undefeated season was almost a must.
“There was a huge turnout at Pitt Stadium,” Rovesti said.
Gateway held Altoona to two touchdowns. The Mountain Lions had averaged 22.9 points in 10 regular season games.
The Gators’ 22 points in the title game was the most Altoona had given up all year.
“To a man, we felt we should’ve won by more than we did, but we did win, and looking back after all these years, we see what a great accomplishment it was,” Rovesti said.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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