With 3 Hall of Famers, the legend of Aliquippa football only grows

Feb, 14 2023

Author S.L. Price came to Aliquippa in 2016 to do a deep study of how high school football impacts a once-thriving steel town that had hit brutally hard times. The result was a terrific book, “Playing through the Whistle.” I read it again over the weekend and kept going back to two paragraphs:

“Forever, the school had been a refuge. After the racial strain of the ’60s and ’70s had eased, once white flight had exhausted itself and Aliquippa High had become mostly black, the high school on top of the hill, The Pit, and the football team that called old and young to return each fall Friday gained an immunity to the town’s most fearsome extremes. Teachers, parents and administrators toiled to make that so. Kids and criminals, dealers and gangbangers knew that anyone crazy or dumb enough to bring the street to the school risked universal censure.

“Because the school was the one last pipeline to a future. The school meant academic and athletic scholarships, football stardom, a job someday. The school was pride and hope, the last bit of it, and even the worst could sense that if that flickered out, the earth could split open and swallow the rest and nobody would give a good goddamn.” 

That observation was from an outsider.

Let’s go to Mike Zmijanac for an insider’s view. He grew up on Wade Street in Plan 12, near the high school. He was Aliquippa’s longtime defensive coordinator under Don Yannessa and then the school’s head coach from 1997-2017.

“Football means everything in Aliquippa,” Zmijanac said on Sunday.