West Xtra: Reports of demise of Aliquippa's stadium greatly exaggerated

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL


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Mike Zmijanac wants to stay put at The Pit.

Zmijanac, Aliquippa's head football coach and athletic director, has heard the whispers about looking into renovating or -- gasp -- perhaps even replacing Carl A. Aschman Stadium, the 75-year-old facility known affectionately around "Quip Town" as "The Pit."

"I'm certainly not in charge of buildings, grounds or finances," Zmijanac said, "but as far as our stadium is concerned, is it old? Yeah. It's an old place, like a lot of places are. But it's hallowed ground."

The grounds are where such luminaries as Mike Ditka, Ty Law, Sean Gilbert, Darrelle Revis and many other future college and NFL stars called their home field -- not to mention stars from visiting teams over the past three-quarters of a century in what has traditionally been a power conference in a district (the WPIAL) that has a reputation as one of the marquee areas in the country.

Aliquippa has won 14 WPIAL titles, its most recent coming this past season in Class AA.

"We've been playing there since [1937], and every great football player who ever played in Western Pennsylvania with exception of maybe a couple have played on that field," said Zmijanac, an Aliquippa alumnus. "Other than there not being like Astroturf or some amenities ... Maybe I'm being a little defensive, but I grew up there, and to me, it's the greatest place in the world to play."

Maybe, but it's also not in the same condition it was in when it was built. Throughout the summer, workers performing maintenance are a routine sight. Zmijanac said they are currently replacing concrete for the visiting bleachers.

The issue of whether The Pit needs a full renovation or replacement was raised by reporters last month when Revis was in town to run his football camp, prompting responses from Revis and Law.

"Some people may want to renovate or whatever, and if we had the money to do that, I'm sure we'd consider it," Zmijanac said. "I'm not so sure that's a high priority for me right now.

"My kids love it there. It's old, it's quaint ... I'm sure they wouldn't tear down Lambau Field if they had a choice. Our lights are fabulous, the grass field, it's a perfect place to play."

Zmijanac cited proof that Aschman Stadium is revered from outside of Quips Nation. Sports Illustrated last year called it "one of the nation's loveliest settings for football." Pennsylvania Football News selected it as the No. 1 place to watch a game, and a producer from ROOT Sports recently called Zmijanac to inquire about broadcasting a Thursday night game from The Pit this fall.

"He called it his favorite place to do a game," Zmijanac said.

"With that in mind, what else would we want to do? Should we have dancing bears and clowns? We have a horse and [a mascot caring] a spear and win football games."

Zmijanac pointed out that Upper St. Clair brought players down this spring for 7-on-7 drills with the Quips. The Panthers have one of the spiffiest stadiums in the WPIAL, replete with artificial turf and all the bells and whistles.

"If it's good enough for Upper St. Clair ..." Zmijanac said, not needing to finish the sentence.

Zmijanac also mentioned how Shady Side Academy coach Dave Havern brought his team to The Pit early before the Indians' 2010 first-round playoff game against the Quips. Havern has his players go through a walkthrough so they could soak in the ambiance.

"He told me he said to his kids, 'Anybody who is anybody should play at Aliquippa's stadium before they're done with their career,'" Zmijanac said.

Zmijanac said he'd love to add a modern track for a track and field team that has had success despite the lack of a facility. And sure, as he said, who wouldn't want to replace what are some dilapidated bleachers?

"Our dressing room facilities, they're old," Zmijanac said, "but you know what, I've been to a lot of stadiums where I left thinking, 'Our place is way better than that.' And some other places have artificial turf. I have no problem with where we play, and I think our kids are more than happy to play in a place that has some tradition ... It's where I grew up, and I have a true affection for the whole place.

"I'd rather have our field and our players than some of these other pretty fields and their players."

hsfootball


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