Heroic Gallery 163

Fans in some of Western Pennsylvania’s most impoverished neighborhoods pack local stadiums in fall to watch their storied football programs perform through declining enrollment, diminished tax bases and drops in school funding.

Like now-defunct rivals at Duquesne and Cornell, high school teams for Clairton, Jeannette, Rochester, Aliquippa and Sto-Rox boast some of the most historically successful teams in Pennsylvania history. They know their futures are not guaranteed.

With tax hikes and refinancing, Jeannette students should be able to hold off a long-awaited merger with nearby Greensburg Salem, Hempfield Area or Penn-Trafford. Advocates herald charter schools while established public schools like Sto-Rox see their own enrollment — and athletic talent — plummet. Aliquippa and Clairton each appeared in WPIAL championship games, but both remain on financial watch lists as their overall academic achievement rankings fell well below state expectations.

While other extra-curricular activities fade away with the declining tax base and the waning economies of these once booming industrial towns, Friday nights still bring people out to the sagging bleachers of area high school stadiums to rally around these storied football powerhouses.

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