The Steel Valley, Football, and The Mountaineers

A recent article in the Kansas City Star entitled “Even when times are tough, West Virginia has its football team” tells the story of hard times in West Virginia and the pride people feel for the Mountaineers of West Virginia University.

From the article…

WEIRTON, W.Va. | The green sheet mill shadows the stadium like a big brother, rising above it, running from end zone to end zone, separated only by the road that once hauled coils of steel from one factory to another, where the rumbling gravel and churning trucks drowned out the sound of the game.

Across West Virginia, the connection between the mill and the field — between the players and the workers — was always a matter of time. You started on the 50-yard line as a teenager. You ended up an old man in the factory.

Weirton Steel built this high school stadium on factory ground in 1935. Today, the ragged place is literally surrounded by the city’s rusting factories.

“Through the Depression, through World War II, through the good times and through the ’80s, the hard times that hit us, there was the mill,” says Bob Rossell, who’s announced Weir High games for 40 years. “And there was football.”

Weirton is just one dot on its map, but it’s as much West Virginia as Grant Town, Coal City or Dunbar, and it says as much about the link between the economic collapse of a state and the rise of its college football team. This is where John F. Kennedy came to talk about poverty when he ran for president, where the boys played football next to the mills and dreamed of being a Mountaineer before they’d become men and head off to work. The heart and soul of West Virginia football is 80 miles south, in Morgantown, but dozens of its players have come from here.

Steel and football, coal and football, they’re two parts of the same thing — the thing that shaped the lives of many of the young men who grew up in Appalachia.

At least it was until the mills and mines began to fail.

Click here to read the entire article (about 4-5 pages).  [Article no longer available from Kansas City Star.]

I grew up about 8 miles south of Weirton, WV in the small town of Wellsburg. At age 10, I moved across the river to Steubenville, Ohio. On football Saturdays, the Mountaineers were always on the radio in my father’s men’s store and throughout the town. On Friday evenings, much of the valley shut down to attend high school football games. My father, uncle, sister, and I all attended WVU, although I was the first in my family to graduate from there. I had uncles and cousins who lived in Morgantown, and we occasionally visited family there.

The mills are rusted and empty and the mines are closed. The once bustling downtowns are boarded up, the sidewalks empty. The money is long gone as are many of the small towns like Power, WV where my father grew up.

Ask anyone from West Virginia and you’ll discover most follow the Mountaineers, especially in football. WVU is a common thread among the people of our state, and we take pride in our Mountaineers and the marching band known as The Pride of West Virginia. And when they play Hail West Virginia as the Mountaineers take the field or court, we’ll often stop to smile and listen.

At least there are some good times…

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2 responses to “The Steel Valley, Football, and The Mountaineers

  1. can you send me the link to view the article “The Steel Valley, Football, and The Mountaineers”? the link on your web site does not work.

    thank you

  2. Sorry, David. I just noticed that the article has been archived and requires an account to view it. I may drop them a note and see if there’s any way they might let me make it available.

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