As the school year began in the fall of 1966, nothing much had changed for the seniors attending Pittston High School, the majestic brick building that spanned the entire length of Defoe Street, from Butler to William streets, in the heart of the city.
And yet, everything had changed.
True, the seniors reported to the same building with the same students they went to school with since ninth grade. And they all walked to school as they always had. The school, however, was no longer Pittston High, but Pittston Area. And the sports teams were no longer Panthers, but Patriots.
Two schools, Northeast and Pittston, had been merged into one. What that would mean no one was sure, but they got a sense the Monday morning following the new football team’s first game.
Those brand new Patriots, taking their name from the new school’s colors — red, white and blue, a combination of the red and white of the former Pittston High and blue and white of the former Northeast — had gone to Old Forge on a Friday night in early September and beaten one of the perennially best high school football teams in the region 20-to-14 on a last-second touchdown.
During the first period of classes on Monday, a voice unfamiliar to Pittston High students interrupted the teachers throughout the building via the school’s intercom system. It was the booming voice of one Thomas R. Kelly, a voice quite well known to the students of the former Northeast High. He had been their principal the previous year and was now principal of the new Pittston Area.
“I’m sure most of you were at the game Friday night,” Kelly said after introducing himself, “and I’m sure you realize what an important victory that was. So I am going to count to three and when I do, I want to hear a roar that lifts the roof right off this building.”
The roar at the sound of Kelly’s “three” was deafening.
This writer was a student in one of the those classrooms and has been saying ever since, this was the real birth of Pittston Area.
“The merger of the former Northeast School District, itself a combination of several smaller districts, and the former Pittston City School District may have been ironed out in a board room, but it became real on the football field,” I wrote in a Pittston Progress column last fall.
In the game, the Patriots fumbled with minutes remaining and all seemed lost but senior quarterback Jim Norris told Coach Bob Barbieri not to worry, “We’ll get it back.” They did and Norris scored the winning touchdown.
Norris, who passed away last summer, won a scholarship to Boston University and later returned to teach and coach at Pittston Area.
John Brogna was on the field that Friday night in Old Forge and agrees that the football team’s success brought the whole school together.
“It was a challenge at first though,” he recalls of trying to make two former rivals into teammates. “Ray and I said to each other that we busted our butts for three years to win starting positions and now we’d have to start over.”
Not only did they win their positions, however, they also found satisfaction playing with their new teammates.
“I remember a game,” Brogna said, “when Ray and I opened a hole for Neil Langdon and when he came back to the huddle he said he never saw a hole like that.”
Ray is Raymond Calabrese, a fellow senior. He played offensive tackle next to Brogna’s offensive guard. On defense, Calabrese was a lineman and Brogna a linebacker.
Langdon was a running back they were trying to tackle the year before.
“Coach Bob was the guy who put it all together,” Brogna said. “He melded us into a team and we really wanted to win that first game for him, especially since he was going against his old school and his old mentor. We wanted it for him but we also wanted it for our classmates. We took pride in that. Giving the school something everyone could be proud of.”
A year and a month later, John Brogna displayed that same pride on another field, this one in Southeast Asia. He wishes he didn’t, but he clearly recalls lying in a field of tall grass in South Vietnam, his legs having been ripped apart by Vietcong gunfire, wondering who would reach him first, the enemy or his fellow U.S. Marines. He has never fully recovered from his battle wounds, undergoing countless surgeries over the years.
“I was lucky though,” he says. “I still get teary-eyed when I think of all those names on the Vietnam Wall. Thousands of guys I didn’t even know.”
He does know two, however. Although they did not graduate, Bill Kause and Ron Urbanski were classmates of the Pittston High contingent in the PA Class of ’67. Both lost their lives in the line of duty.
“I think of them often,” Brogna says.
So do classmates Al Kridlo and Bill Keating as well as this writer. The three of us looked up Billy’s and Ronnie’s names on the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall that came to Swoyersville earlier this summer and raised a glass to them at the American Legion next door. Keating also served with the Marines in Vietnam and Kridlo served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam years.
A lot of descriptions apply to the Pittston High Class of ’67. Baby Boomers is the most frequent. Most born in 1949 or ’50, these were sons and daughters of a generation of Americans who were patriots as well. Only they earned that title in the forests of Europe and on beaches in the Pacific Ocean. Some 76 million babies were born during the period termed the Baby Boom from 1946 to 1964, and they influenced all aspects of life in America, including the merging of school districts such as Pittston Area. The Pittston Area graduating class of 1967 had 357 members.
The Class of ’67 could also be called the Sputnik Generation, having experienced an acceleration in education that went hand-in-hand with the space race with the Soviet Union; the JFK Generation, having been freshmen in high school at the time of the assassination; the Beatles Generation, freshmen again that February night when “The Lads” appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show; and certainly, the Vietnam War Generation.
The Pittston Area School District began with the 1966-67 school year, but a school capable of housing this many students would not be built for two more years. As such, members of the Class of ’67 attended classes in three separate buildings. As they did at Northeast High, academic course students of that former school were housed in the former Duryea High building and commercial course students were housed in Hughestown. Pittston High students went to Pittston High School.
“The merger didn’t make much of a difference in my life,” said classmate Mary Kay (Brogan) Jones of Avoca, who went to school in Hughestown. “I had already faced a transition when I went from St. John’s after ninth grade to Northeast. But I always handled change well. It was my chemistry. I think a lot of us were like that. We were accepting people. We rarely complained.”
Ellen Scatena, a reunion co-chairwoman, said as much of the Duryea building. The students attending Northeast had grown close and since they continued to attend classes together, accepted the merger without complaint, she said.
“We had already gone through the Northeast merger, which was interesting,” she said. “My Latin teacher asked me my father’s name and when I said, ‘Armand,’ she said, ‘Class of ’35, valedictorian. I expect no less.’ It was all great fun.”
As with the football team, the new Patriot basketball and baseball teams quickly jelled. With senior pitcher Terry Kozol throwing two no-hitters, the Patriot baseball team went undefeated and won the league championship. Senior co-captain Al Kridlo caught those no-hitters.
Aside from sporting events and extra-curricular activities, such as band, cheerleaders and majorettes, the Pittston Area Class of ’67 did not come together as a group until graduation practice, which was held at the former Jenkins Twp. high school. Since there was no auditorium large enough to accommodate them, graduation was held at the then-Masonic Temple in Scranton.
That’s why the class’s 50th anniversary reunion is being held at the same location, now known as the Scranton Cultural Center.
The reunion is Saturday, Sept. 9, with cocktails from 6 to 7 p.m. and dinner and dancing to follow.
A Memorial Mass honoring deceased classmates will be celebrated at Mary Queen of the Apostles Church, Avoca, at 4 p.m.
A pre-reunion party will be held Friday, Sept. 8, at the Red Mill Tavern, Pittston.
More than 50 members of the class are deceased. Close to 100, or nearly a third of the surviving classmates, have made reunion reservations. Those wishing to attend but who have not yet made reservations are encouraged to call co-chairs Ellen Scatena (570-430-8676), Karen Hadley Sobeski (570-589-1005) or Ed Ackerman (570-954-1841).