Exhibit examines sports history in Bridgeville

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A special exhibit on display at the Greater Bridgeville Historical Society shows that Bridgeville has had a rich sports history.

"The exhibit covers the period from 1921 to the present with a heavy focus on the early years," said John Oyler, 82, official society historian and an adjunct professor of civil engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. "There wasn't much sports activity before the 1920s that's well documented."

The free exhibit opened last month and will be up through the Christmas holidays. It is made up of scrapbooks, posters, trophies, lettermen sweaters, ball bats and other memorabilia, much from the society's archives.

One of the oldest items is a photo of Burke Jones, who captained the 1921 Bridgeville High School basketball team and played on the U.S. Olympic soccer team in 1924 in Paris.

The display includes a scrapbook kept by Bridgeville High School football and basketball coach Neil Brown, who arrived as coach in 1931 after graduating from Grove City College and remained at Bridgeville until 1942, when he took over the head coaching position at the newly formed Har-Brack Union High School. After serving six successful years at Har-Brack, he coached football at Clairton High School, where he produced many outstanding teams. Clairton's football stadium was later renamed in his honor.

Mr. Oyler, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, said the scrapbook is particularly valuable because the number of local sports fans who remember the Brown era is rapidly dwindling.

An exhibit of posters commemorates several local sports personalities, such as Buff Donelli, the only person to concurrently coach an NFL team -- the Steelers -- and a college team -- Duquesne University. One poster highlights Huck O'Neill's career, which included stints with Bridgeville High School, Duquesne University, Notre Dame, the Steelers, the Calgary Stampeders, the Montreal Alouettes and the New York Titans.

Coach Bob Hast and his noteworthy record also are commemorated with another historical poster. He took over the reins of Bridgeville High School's football team in 1947 on the heels of an all-loss season but went on to coach a winning streak of 25 games that included two WPIAL championships.

The exhibit also references Paul Danilo's National Soccer Hall of Fame career and Suzy Semanick's Olympic Ice Dancing exploits at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.

The idea for the exhibit came from members of Mr. Oyler's "Octogenarian Brunch Club," which meets twice a month. Those who worked with Mr. Oyler on the exhibit are Dale Deblander, Russ Kovach, Chuck Degrosky and Mr. Oyler's brother, Joe Oyler.

The group started the project in July by researching the historical society archives and old newspaper articles on the Internet. All of the individuals included in the exhibit either lived in or were involved in sports in Bridgeville or the neighboring communities of Collier, Scott, Upper St. Clair and South Fayette.

Organizers hope the sports exhibit will encourage visitors to use the historical society's resources to learn more about subjects that interest them.

"The items on display are only a small portion of the sports heritage of the area," Mr. Oyler said. "Visitors can ask any of our very competent volunteers at the society to help them find additional information and material."

Organizers also hope that seeing the material on display will encourage visitors to loan or donate relevant items. After viewing the display, some people have brought in sports items that have been incorporated into the exhibit.

"Only a handful of the sports personalities we've included in the exhibit are still alive and living in the area," Mr. Oyler said. "We're hoping they might want to come in, see the exhibit and possibly donate or loan us additional sports-related material."

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society, Kay Banks Building, 441 Station St., is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Information: 412-221-4052. An exhibit on the Boy Scouts is planned for February.

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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