Clairton, Duquesne student fights lead to separate Kennywood days

Students clash after district picnics

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Next year, Duquesne City and Clairton City schools will not have their Kennywood school picnics on the same date, at the request of Clairton Superintendent Lucille Abellonio and her district's school board.

The request came after disruptions between students from the two districts occurred June 18, the day both districts had their annual school picnic. Incidents took place inside and outside of the amusement park in West Mifflin.

Kennywood police and security handled the incidents inside the park, which were reported to be minor. But fighting between the groups that erupted after the park closed at the McDonald's across the street required action by the West Mifflin and Duquesne police departments, said West Mifflin police Chief Joseph Popovich.

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A West Mifflin officer was hurt as he was attempting to break up two males who were fighting. West Mifflin police charged a Clairton juvenile with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and possession a small amount of marijuana.

The tensions between the two groups at the Kennywood picnic was a topic of discussion at the June meeting of the Clairton school board when two parents complained about what they described as aggressive behavior by Duquesne students against Clairton students.

In addition, Clairton school director Pauline Long said she witnessed incidents in which groups of Clairton boys were followed and harassed groups of Duquesne boys. She said the Duquesne boys were eighth- and ninth-graders and the Clairton boys appeared to be about the same age.

Sarah McCluan, spokeswoman for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which manages the Duquesne City School District, said no Duquesne officials were contacted by Clairton or Kennywood officials or by police about the matter.

"Since we don't have any kind of police report to go on or any written complaints from Kennywood, it's hard to respond," Mrs. McCluan said.

"Certainly our students have been on field trips in the last school year and these accusations that are being made do not fit the behavior that is typical of Duquesne students and certainly it does not fit the behavior we have observed of kids."

The Duquesne City School District currently consists of kindergarten through eighth grade.

Dr. Long and Dr. Abellonio said they believed that whatever altercations may have occurred were the result of a longtime rivalry between the districts --on and off the sports fields.

The administrators noted that before Duquesne High School closed in June 2007, football and basketball games between the two districts had to be held during daytime hours in an attempt to avoid conflict before and after the events.

At the June 18 Kennywood picnic, Dr. Long said, the tensions inside the park appeared to peak about 7:30 or 8 p.m. when a large group of kids from both communities were gathering near the Pirate ride in the park. Dr. Long said she and a friend were sitting near the area and saw kids running toward the large group saying they were going to watch a fight.

She and her friend and other adults started to move toward the group, but she said Kennywood police and other security made it to the scene first and dispersed the crowd without incident.

She commended the Kennywood security force for its handling of the incident. And, she said, she thought the park's security officers did a good job of watching over the gangs of boys who appeared to be following each other throughout the day.

But, she said, she was annoyed when Kennywood officials initially told Clairton school officials that they were unaware of any incidents in the park that day.

Since then, Kennywood spokesman Jeff Filicko said he checked with the security office and learned that some minor incidents occurred.

"There was some form of verbal altercation between guests, but no different than what we sometimes see [on school picnic days]. A minor exchange of words. It never turned physical. It was quickly broken up," Mr Filicko said.

Mr. Filicko said he believed that this was not the first time Clairton and Duquesne shared a picnic day and that it had been cleared at contract time with both superintendents.

Dr. Long said she does not blame Kennywood for the fact that Duquesne and Clairton had their picnics scheduled for the same day.

"I'm blaming us as a district and as a school board that we let this go. We knew this and we should not have accepted the same date," she said.

The tension between the Duquesne and Clairton students escalated into the McDonald's parking lot because the park closed earlier than expected and a number of students went to McDonald's to await pickup.

She said parents expected the park to be closed at 10 p.m. but it closed about 9:30 p.m.

Mr. Filicko said the closing time was chosen because the park had lower-than-normal attendance that day.

"Our closing time on any given day depends on the crowd size and weather. On this particular day, the crowd was very light," he said.

Dr. Long said as the park closed, she and her friend witnessed large groups of students heading toward the McDonald's and they both went there in an attempt to stave off trouble.

But by the time they arrived, she said West Mifflin police were on the scene with a police dog, attempting to break up the crowd.

Chief Popovich said the McDonald's is in Duquesne and Duquesne police called West Mifflin for assistance. He said a West Mifflin K-9 officer and his partner responded and found a group of 20 to 25 kids fighting.

"When you have schools together like that at Kennywood and then it's time for them to leave, then the fights occur," Chief Popovich said.

He said the melee was quickly broken up, with the exception of two boys who continued to fight. When his officers ordered them to stop, one walked away but the other continued to argue with police. The chief said the youth resisted arrest and tried to get away, injuring one of the officers.

That youth was apprehended and arrested and faces charges in juvenile court.

Dr. Abellonio said next year, Clairton's Kennywood school picnic day will be June 30 and it will be shared with the South Butler School District in Butler County.

Correction/Clarification: (Published July 11, 2009) Clairton school director Pauline Long said she witnessed incidents in which groups of Clairton boys were followed and harassed by groups of Duquesne boys. Her comments were incorrectly reported in this story as originally published July 9, 2009.

Mary Niederberger can be reached at or 412-851-1512. Maria Sciullo can be reached at or 412-851-1867.


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