TribLive HSSN ranks the top 7 toughest places to play in WPIAL history — No. 1
By: George Guido
Friday, October 19, 2018 | 6:33 PM
Did you ever wonder how you would rank the top high school football players in WPIAL history? How about coaches? Or toughest places to play?
So did the staff at the TribLive High School Sports Network.
Trib HSSN has ranked the top 7 high school football players in WPIAL history by position based on their performance during their scholastic careers. The Network also has ranked the top 7 coaches.
We announce the players in reverse order each day, starting Saturday. The top choice will be released each Friday morning.
We encourage you to tell us through social media if you agree, or if we have missed the mark with our rankings.
There are no perfect rankings, but it’s something to discuss and debate each week.
Have fun with them and hopefully your — or your father’s — favorite player or coach or stadium made the lists.
Here’s a look at the Trib 7 all-time toughest places to play:
No. 1 — Carl A. Aschman Memorial Stadium, Aliquippa
Known by many as “The Pit” and by visiting teams as the pits, Aliquippa Stadium was constructed in 1928, carved into a hillside overlooking downtown Aliquippa.
That same year, the school changed its name from Woodlawn to Aliquippa a year after the football team embarked on a streak on 10 winning seasons in an 11-year span.
After a lackluster period, Aliquippa brought in coach Carl Aschman, who had just piloted Brownsville to the WPIAL title.
From 1941 to 1964, Aschman compiled a 189-88-10 record with five WPIAL championship game appearances and three titles.
In November 1971, Aschman suffered a fatal heart attack and the stadium was renamed in his honor a month later.
By then, racial animosity had gripped the town and the school played its home games on Saturday afternoons and the field lost its mystique.
When Aliquippa hired alumnus Don Yanessa, the first thing the new coach did was to restore night football to “The Pit” — and the success has been astounding.
This year will mark the 37th WPIAL playoff appearance in the last 39 seasons. The Quips will be going for an unprecedented 11th straight trip to Heinz Field.
Aliquippa has won 53 of its past 54 home games, losing only to Beaver in 2016.
From 2011-13, weather and other field conditions prompted the WPIAL to move first-round playoff games to nearby venues.
Stadium conditions by then raised community concerns.
As for the future of “The Pit,” a community group is raising money for field restoration with new bleachers, locker rooms and other items on the wish list.
But the group is not looking for an artificial turf field — thus keeping the field’s hardscrabble image intact.
No. 2 — Scott Stadium, North Braddock
Alexander M. Scott Stadium was adjacent to the school of the same name and was built in 1928.
Scott was a railroad magnate and financier. Not only did North Braddock Scott use the field, but neighboring Braddock, which didn’t have its own field, also played its home games there.
If the 6,000 seats weren’t adequate to hold the big crowds, fans lined the sidelines and end zones, making it an even more difficult place to play.
North Braddock won three WPIAL titles in a four-year span during the 1930s as part of a 41-game undefeated streak. The Purple Raiders were successful in an era where the schedule consisted of neighboring teams such as Rankin, Swissvale, McKeesport and Homestead.
But the annual North Braddock-Braddock game was one of the legendary rivalries in WPIAL history. Only a railroad separated the two communities and many worked in nearby steel mills.
In the 1931 game, fistfights broke out on the field and in the stands and the rivalry was discontinued until 1947.
The North Braddock-Braddock rivalry reached its zenith on Nov. 6, 1959. Both teams were undefeated and the winner would play in the WPIAL title game against Waynesburg. Braddock was going for its sixth straight WPIAL title.
The 10,000 fans who crammed into Scott Stadium watched Braddock pull the game out with 37 seconds left, 15-12.
After the season, the steel industry declined and both communities lost half their populations in the next 10 years.
In 1971, North Braddock, Braddock and Rankin merged to form General Braddock High School and played at Scott. Ten years later, a court order dissolved the school district and Woodland Hills was formed, leaving Scott Stadium to fall into disrepair.
The North Braddock Little League bought Scott Stadium in 1988 but couldn’t keep up with the maintenance costs. The high school was demolished in 1995 but remnants of the field remain.
No. 3 — Wolvarena, Woodland Hills
For many years known as Turtle Creek Stadium, it was rechristened The Wolvarena in 1987 when Woodland Hills High School began operations.
The stadium was built in 1942, just when the original Turtle Creek High School had come off a 9-0-0 season in 1941.
The stadium seats 12,500, with the unique feature of the side of seats built into the hillside. The close seats are less than 10 yards from the field, with no track around the grid.
A star in the stadium’s early days was Leon Hart, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1949 while at Notre Dame. At the time, Turtle Creek played in the largest enrollment classification, doing so until 1961. During the 1960s, however, rapidly shrinking enrollment forced the Creekers to drop two classifications in five years.
In 1971, Turtle Creek absorbed East Pittsburgh High School and was known as the Turtle Creek Area Eagles and again played at the same stadium.
The old park became rejuvenated in 1987 when Woodland Hills took over. With a coat of black and turquoise paint, the new Wolverines won their first home game at the Wolvarena over Shaler, 27-0, on Sept. 12.
From 1993 to 2001, Woodland Hills had a 40-2 record (.952 pct) at the Wolvarena. No one was surprised in 2001 when USA Today dubbed the field one of the 10 toughest places to play in the country.
Lights were added in the late 1990s.
In 2007, an $8 million facelift included installation of artificial turf, rebuilt concession stands, renovated bleachers and lockers rooms, along with a paved parking lot.
In 2017, the playing surface was named in honor of retiring coach George Novak.
No. 4 — Neil C. Brown Stadium, Clairton
Located on the edge of a business district along Miller Avenue, the stadium opened in 1938. The Bears played all of their games on the road in 1937 while the stadium was being built.
The Clairton program took an immediate liking to the new digs, compiling a 9-1 record in ’38, with the loss coming to McKeesport. That ended an un-Clairton-like streak of six straight losing seasons.
The Bears went 10-0 in 1942 and 9-1 in ‘43, with the lone setback coming against Duquesne.
Clairton struggled in the post-World War II period until the school hired Neil Brown away from Har-Brack High School.
In 1954, Clairton was 9-0-1 and was declared WPIAL champion without a playoff since the Bears were the only undefeated team.
Clairton was back in the championship game in 1957 and ’58, losing to Wilkinsburg and Johnstown, respectively.
From 1952-66, Clairton compiled a 114-26-9 record. Shortly after nearby Thomas Jefferson High School was formed, Clairton’s enrollment declined significantly and the football program dropped two classifications within seven years.
But the winning has continued. Clairton has been in the playoffs 30 times in the last 41 seasons.
The stadium was renamed after Brown in 1998.
When the players are introduced, they emerge from the locker room and go down alternate ramps to their bench.
Clairton lost the season’s finale at home to Apollo-Ridge on Oct. 28, 2005. After that, Clairton won 38 straight home games before falling to Monessen on Sept. 20, 2013, which also ended the Bears’ 66-game winning streak.
No. 5 — Taggart Stadium, New Castle
Originally called Franklin Field when the adjacent school was Benjamin Franklin Junior High, the facility hosted its first high school game on Saturday, Sept. 22, 1923, played Mars and won 55-0 en route to a 10-0-1 season.
One of the first schools in the nation to install lights, New Castle played a night game on Sept. 20, 1929 before 12,000 fans. The home team defeated Grove City, 13-0, as a Western Pennsylvania tradition was established.
In mid-December 1929, the school board voted to rename the field Taggart Stadium in honor of the late John Cannon Taggart Sr., an executive with Carnegie Steel Co. Taggart was a prominent local civic leader who championed New Castle and its scholastic athletic program and had died suddenly on Dec. 4, 1929.
New Castle continued its winning ways through the 1960s and ’70s, when Taggart Stadium would regularly draw 10,000 fans as the Red Hurricanes played in the largest enrollment classification.
Ben Franklin Junior High closed in 2005 because of declining enrollment, but the stadium remains a viable portion of the community.
Red Hurricanes fans have watched 11 WPIAL championship teams at the facility.
No. 6 — Jaguars Stadium, Thomas Jefferson
When Thomas Jefferson High School opened in 1958, it had just sophomores and juniors on a team that went 1-4 for the brand new West Jefferson Hills School District.
The new school played its home games at Clairton’s Bears Stadium for two years. Seniors that season were still attending Clairton High School, where mostly all students went before the new school district was created.
Jaguars Stadium opened in 1960 and the team went 7-1-1 in just the school’s third season. After seven years of daylight football, Jaguars Stadium got lights in 1967.
Thomas Jefferson won its first nocturnal game, a 9-6 decision over Baldwin that started a streak of 16 consecutive winning seasons that included the school’s first WPIAL title in 1980 with a 28-8 victory over Aliquippa.
The stadium also hosted the 1973 WPIAL Class AA championship game where Springdale defeated Union, 20-14.
By then Jaguars Stadium had acquired a reputation as a tough place for visitors. One visiting team that did grab a victory was Monessen, 35-24, in 1977 before an estimated crowd of 10,000.
Reports had fans parking as far as two miles away because the game was for the conference title and a berth in the WPIAL playoffs.
Thomas Jefferson won 58 consecutive home games at Jaguars Stadium, starting with a win over West Mifflin on Oct. 22, 2004. A loss to Belle Vernon on Sept. 11, 2015, ended the streak.
Hometown fans at Jaguars Stadium are enjoying a 24th consecutive playoff season in 2018.
No. 7 — Martorelli Stadium, North Hills
Opened in 1941 as West View Field, it is the classic, small-town stadium positioned between already established roads.
When West View High School was morphed into North Hills in 1958 to acknowledge the burgeoning Ross Township area, school officials decided to keep the small-town feel.
The stadium is named after Mario Martorelli, a Westinghouse High School and Pitt graduate who came to coach West View in 1945 and stayed until 1967. He taught business education at West View and North Hills.
Martorelli also was athletic director from 1967 until his death on May 5, 1974. Shortly after, the North Hills School Board renamed the stadium.
Fans had plenty to cheer about during the decade of the 1980s. Under coach Jack McCurry, the Indians compiled a 97-21-2 record, making the WPIAL playoffs each of those seasons. In 1987, North Hills was declared the top team in the nation.
Leading the cheers is a group known as the “Rowdie Rooters” who set up at a private residence overlooking the stadium — just one more thing visiting teams have to contend with.
The stadium had fallen into disrepair by 2001 and the visitors bleachers were condemned. Martorelli Stadium then underwent a massive modernization, though keeping its hometown feel.
George Guido is a freelance writer.