Gridiron Escape: Football Is Everything In Clairton
4 months ago
For the mostly black players in a Pa. town, the football field is a way out of poverty
Like most of his teammates on the Clairton High School football team in southwestern Pennsylvania, Tyler Boyd understands all too well that the most viable path away from his hometown’s scourge of violence and drugs is on the gridiron, rather than Route 51 along the Monongahela River, 13 miles from Pittsburgh.
The 18-year-old has lived his entire life in Clairton, a former steel town that was the setting for the 1978 Academy Award-winning film “The Deer Hunter,” and maintains a population of less than 7,000 people. Nearly a quarter of Clairton lives in poverty, a rate three times that of Pennsylvania’s average and twice that of the U.S. rate. The struggling community, known as the “City of Prayer,” boasts a pizzeria, a Chinese food restaurant, a soft serve eatery, a Rite Aid and a Dollar General, but no supermarket or gas station.
Thanks to Boyd and his 43 teammates, it can now take pride in something that has never happened in Pennsylvania and has occurred rarely at the national level: having a high school football team with 60 back-to-back wins. In November, the Clairton Bears broke the Pennsylvania state record for consecutive victories with 60 straight wins, by defeating longtime neighboring rival Sto-Rox, 58-21.
“This is the best thing we got going for us,” Boyd observed, in an interview with Loop 21. “It means a lot to play football.”
Clairton’s prayers of hope may have been found on the football field, but the heroics of its high school team were inspired by tragedy. On the morning of March 26, 2009, assistant coach Demonje Rosser was gunned down on the street in front of his home, while his wife and family looked on helplessly. Many of the boys who carried his casket were ones he’d coached from early childhood through adolescence. They lost the game immediately following his funeral, but haven’t tasted defeat since winning the one after that, on September 11, 2009.
“These students have so many odds stacked against them,” explained Alexis Trubiani, Clairton High School’s public relations coordinator. “The victory streak for the school is important because it has brought everyone together since it first started. Ours is the only high school in this community and the biggest obstacle for most of them is boredom. There just isn’t a lot to do here.”