Guido: A look at other times high school sports shut down

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020 | 5:37 PM


The coronavirus pandemic is threatening to do what World War II, the Spanish flu and the Asian flu couldn’t do: shelve an entire high school sports season.

With the schools closed and everything else virtually shut down, some are still hoping a semblance of a 2020 spring sports season could be accomplished if the virus dissipates over the next few weeks.

But, if not, the closest a disease or other circumstances came to wiping out a season came in 1918.

In those days, the football season didn’t start until the last Friday of September. Teams had the traditional three weeks of practice, usually starting around Labor Day.

The season got underway with Tarentum pounding Kittanning, 58-0, and New Kensington suffering a 7-0 setback to Donora.

Parnassus, Aspinwall, Vandergrift, Apollo and Ford City were also starting their seasons.

At the same time, a virus affecting soldiers coming and going from World War I was reported at several bases. On Aug. 27, a wave of virus hit Camp Devens in Massachusetts.

Three weeks later, the virus arrived in Western Pennsylvania. The disease was determined to be the Spanish influenza.

Football was about the only fall sport at the time. Scholastic girls sports didn’t exist then.

Schools were closed, derailing football.

Churches in New Kensington were closed by the Board of Health. Churches on the Tarentum side of the Allegheny River were limited to one weekly service.

Prominent names soon dotted the obituary pages. Henry Ashe, 29, a former Springdale school principal, died in Washington, D.C. while doing community work at a war camp.

Tarentum High School, which is now Highlands Elementary, was turned into a makeshift hospital.

Pittsburgh reported 4,500 deaths and nearly 24,000 people were treated in Pittsburgh-area hospitals. At the height of the pandemic, a Pittsburgh regional resident died every 10 minutes.

In Westmoreland County, 2,000 people died. Ligonier was quarantined.

The Spanish flu began to disappear in early November — after Halloween was banned.

After a five-week layoff, Tarentum resumed its season with a 7-6 loss to Duquesne and New Kensington defeated rival Parnassus, 19-0.

Apollo, after losing its opener to Greensburg, 46-0, didn’t bother resuming the season.

There was no WPIAL title awarded that year. The Syracuse Alumni Association of Western Pennsylvania was in charge of awarding the WPIAL title as there were no on-field playoffs at the time.

So few schools played enough of a meaningful schedule, the Syracuse alums didn’t award a title.

’57 wasn’t heaven

Several weeks after the 1957 season got underway, the Asian flu hit the area.

After the A-K Valley Band Festival at Ken High Stadium, Leechburg band members became ill and, eventually, 234 students were absent from school.

Ken High, which was undefeated, had 115 absentees and 15 football players were down. Oakmont was also undefeated but had to call off a game against Arnold, which sported a 2-1 mark.

After three weeks, the Asian flu dissipated and schedules resumed. Ken High made up two of the three games. The WPIAL extended the season and told Ken High it could make up a game against Greensburg. But that would have had Ken High play three games in eight days. School officials called it a season, and Wilkinsburg defeated Clairton in the WPIAL title game.

Arnold agreed to make up the game with Oakmont. But the Lions dashed the Oaks’ WPIAL title hopes with a 14-2 victory. Al Ansani, who died last week, ran and threw for a touchdown to give Arnold the Allegheny Valley Football Conference title.

World War II

A number of small schools such as Elders Ridge, West Newton, Avonmore and Cecil Township discontinued football during the war years. Many male teachers were serving in the war effort, and it was common for boys to quit school or skip their senior season to serve in the military.

Schools played reduced schedules, as few as five or six games in some instances, because of travel restrictions.

Many think the travel restrictions were because of a gasoline shortage.

Actually, travel was discouraged because of a rubber shortage. Since the United States is not able to produce rubber trees, all rubber products were imported and dedicated to building tanks, jeeps, airplanes and other war equipment.

Nighttime sports were also discouraged so electricity could be produced for war-related manufacturing.

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