Memories of growing up in 'Steeler Nation'


Letter No. 335 | February 18, 2009

Hello Everyone,

It’s Friday morning and I’m sitting in the back of the ballroom of a major Pittsburgh hotel for a medical conference. The speaker is speaking, and this listener is, well…multitasking! Opportunities like this are exciting. Reconnecting with friends and co-workers from the past provides insight into just how life unfolds on very individual and personal levels. Making new acquaintances helps gather strength to meet the tomorrows with fresh, new perspectives.

While most are dressed in a variety of styles, there’s a majority group clad in regal black and gold. Some represent corporate colors, yet others sport the colors of the pride of Western Pennsylvania. The area has certainly grasped onto something positive in difficult times. It seems no matter where you go folks are still talking about the big plays and fancy footwork. They discuss strategies, pour over statistics, and give their personal “expert” opinions. Reminds me of my childhood days back in our small coal-mining community of Nanty-Glo…

It wasn’t unusual to find a pick-up game of any sport in our neighborhood. Spring and summer brought baseball (in all forms), and autumn and winter meant football. We donned our batting helmets, picked our favorite bats, taped up the balls, and oiled and “cured” our ball gloves as if we were the original “Bronx Bombers.” We’d strap on our shoulder pads, secure the chinstraps of our helmets, and pop in our mouth guards to play the ultimate Super Bowl showdown. Weather was never an issue. We played in the sun, we played in the rain, and we played in driving snow. If “midget football” ever had its official beginnings…it started in my backyard, and while my father may not have appreciated the condition of the “turf,” it certainly prepared us for life outside of the valley.

We discussed game strategy, rattled off statistics like our lives depended on it to survive, and we emulated the techniques of our favorite players…Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell, Terry Bradshaw, and Roger Staubach. We grew up in the 1970s, but we weren’t too far removed to know other Nanty Glo boys had made their own impact on the world as well. Rip Collins and Charlie Metro shaped the game of professional baseball, and Boyd “Buzz” Wagner helped write the book on aerial combat during World War II (one of the old school buildings in town was named in his honor).

Recently, I’ve been reading and researching about my hometown. Generations of remarkable men and women endured the bitter and the sweet. Directly and indirectly, they made our lives more meaningful. They knew how to dream and they knew the value of responsibility, persistence, and service. While the mines no longer exist, the intangible lamp house continues to issue lights to guide the next generations on our journey. We know where we come from and we know where we’re going!

The wise king, Solomon, knew the value of the lessons learned from generations past when he wrote, “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set” (Proverbs 22:28 NKJV). As I sit in this room of very talented individuals and while I continue on this journey of lifelong learning, I cannot forget the lessons from generations past, and lessons learned from the valley of coal.

We wish you the richness of traditions and memories as you journey through life.

Scott & Karen

(Scott Rhoades
Indiana, Pennsylvania)

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