George Guido: Not even war could dim Friday Night Lights

Tuesday, August 6, 2019 | 6:28 PM

A number of past columns have been written about the effects of World War II on daily life and high school sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

One example of that is what happened 75 years ago this week regarding Kittanning football.

The U.S. Dept. of War, now known as the Dept. of Defense, was discouraging nighttime sporting events so electricity generated could aid the war effort.

Many defense plants were running 24 hours a day. The D-Day invasion of Europe was two months old and incredible progress had been made by Allied troops to the Seine River, resulting in the prelude to the liberation of Paris on Aug. 25, 1944.

But Kittanning wanted to continue playing Friday night football at Gilpin Field. It resulted in an unusual agreement with the federal government.

It was agreed that Kittanning could play their games at night if the school would turn off the lights at halftime. Fans sat in the dark and when it was time for the third quarter, the lights were turned back on and play resumed.

By the time the 1945 scholastic football season came along, the war had ended, and America returned to typical civilian life.

Night football really took hold following the war. Vandergrift’s Davis Field added lights during the 1946 football season, mainly so the field could host minor league baseball the following summer with the Vandergrift Pioneers, a Phillies affiliate.

Freeport put in lights in time for its Oct. 4, 1947 game against Apollo. Bud Carson, who would later become the architect of the Steel Curtain defense, played quarterback for Freeport that night.

Leechburg and New Kensington built new stadiums with lights in 1947.

Elders Ridge and other smaller high schools that gave up football during World War II regenerated their programs.

As for Gilpin Field, it was used by Kittanning until 1955 when the present high school building was constructed, and the field moved across the street on Orr Avenue.

The facility was renamed Red Ullom Field in 1999 after the long-time Wildcats football coach.

Armstrong High School used Ullom Field for its first three seasons until it built an on-campus facility last year.

Now, Ullom Field is rented by the Kittanning YMCA for its activities.

PIAA changes

The iconic PIAA championship trophy with the square plaque on a rounded pedestal is about to undergo some changes.

The new trophy will look more like the NCAA championship trophy with the insignia for the designated sport on a pedestal, according to the PIAA office.

The change was made because the PIAA’s vendor, Josten’s, no longer will make the old trophies.

In another PIAA change, officials’ attire could be altered in the near future.

Melissa Mertz, PIAA assistant executive director, said the traditional black-and-white stripes was being confused with all the schools that wear black uniforms.

“It’s something that the officials’ advisory committee had discussed for years, but never passed before,” Mertz said.

Football, field hockey, girls lacrosse and volleyball could see new officials’ apparel in the near future.

We doubt if the football officials uniforms will go back to the 1930s when they wore white shirts with bow ties.

Three schools into one

Count Wilkes-Barre as the latest city school district to merge all of its high schools into one.

The school district recently consolidated Elmer Myers, James Coughlin and GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) high schools into Wilkes-Barre High School.

The three schools will combine into one sports program starting this school year.

Eventually, a new high school will be built outside the city.

The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization of Civil War veterans that lasted between 1866 and 1956.

Two years ago, Erie consolidated Strong Vincent, East and Central to form Erie High School.

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