Alums remember soon-to-be-closed City League schools
May 20, 2012 4:00 AM
Running back Ray Zellars will go down as the only player from Oliver to play in the NFL.
Langley's Bobby Howard went on to play football at Indiana, but baseball may have been his best sport.
By Mike White Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The last game has been played at Oliver High School, and the only sport still being played at Langley is girls softball. Next week at this time, both schools will have all sports uniforms packed away.
Oliver and Langley are two Pittsburgh Public Schools that will close their doors for good at the end of the school year. In the fall, Oliver's students will attend Perry, Langley's will go to Brashear.
But as the school doors close, the vault to the sports memories opens. Neither Langley nor Oliver had a rich sports tradition, at least not in terms of City League championships. It is not like saying goodbye to Schenley or Peabody. Langley never won a City football championship and had only three basketball titles. Oliver's City football championship in 2006 under coach Joe Zeglowitsch was the Bears' first since 1942, and Oliver won only two basketball titles.
But Langley and Oliver, which both opened in the 1920s, had their moments in a few City League sports, and they had one common thread that is highly unusual among City League schools. Langley and Oliver produced an NFL running back.
Ray Zellars is a 1991 graduate of Oliver, located on the North Side. He went on to play at Notre Dame and then four years with the NFL's New Orleans Saints.
Bobby Howard is a 1982 graduate of Langley, located in Sheraden. He played for Indiana of the Big Ten and then spent three years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I will always be thankful for the opportunity Langley gave me because it gave me my early start in life and sports," Howard said. "The sad part is it's not going to be there any more."
Zellars actually wanted to attend rival Perry, but his parents forced him to attend Oliver. He is the only Oliver graduate to play in the NFL.
"I never played organized football until I got into ninth grade at Oliver," Zellars said.
He and Howard likely are the most successful athletes to come out of Oliver and Langley. The only other NFL player to come out of either school was George Rosso, who went from Langley to Ohio State and played for the Washington Redskins in 1954.
Zellars and Howard certainly had memorable moments during their high school days. Howard was actually a three-sport standout (football, basketball and baseball).
"My goal when I was in high school was to get out of the situation I was in," Howard said. "I grew up in public housing and I knew I didn't want that. I also lost my mom at an early age. I knew the only way I could get out was athletics.
"Football was great to me. It gave me an opportunity to get a college education."
Howard also was a terrific catcher in baseball and, to this day, says he wishes he hadn't quit on baseball after high school.
"A lot of people to this day say baseball was Bobby's best sport," said Pat Carmack, who was Langley's basketball coach during Howard's years at the school. "I swear he could've made it to the major leagues. He was that good."
Howard played baseball at Langley when the Mustangs' program was as good as any in the WPIAL. Coach Bob Shearer built Langley into a City League power, winning three City titles in five years from 1978-82. In 1982, Howard played on a Langley team that made it to the PIAA championship game before losing a heartbreaker to Hershey, 5-4.
Pitcher Joe Law was another Langley baseball standout who made it to the major leagues with the Oakland A's. Law was on the A's for four days, although he didn't appear in a game.
Carmack also had some excellent basketball teams at Langley, produced a few Division I college players and won a City title in 1983.
These days, Howard, 47, lives in the Atlanta area and works for LifeLink, a non-profit organization that recovers organs for transplants. Only five years after he stopped playing in the NFL, Howard underwent a kidney transplant.
He also is an assistant football coach at Southwest DeKalb (Ga.) High School.
Zellars coaches high school football, too, as an assistant at Avonworth in the WPIAL. He also has been an assistant at Oliver and Duquesne University.
From Zellars' North Side home, he can look out a window and see Oliver's track and practice football field. This is where he opened eyes two decades ago as a rare breed -- a good-sized running back with speed.
"I was furious when my parents made me go to Oliver because Perry was doing big things in all sports," Zellars said. "Once I accepted I was going to Oliver, it became my mission to be on one of those teams to beat Perry. Unfortunately, we fell a little short and lost to them in the '90 championship game. But I really enjoyed my time at Oliver."