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King Football opens high school season in the Alle-Kiski Valley, including Valley-Burrell rivalry

September 15, 2018
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Anna Rogers of Upper Burrell (second from right) helps the young members of her extended family buy $1 popcorn to support the Burrell High School marching band and its color guard, the Sapphires, during the home opener against Valley High School on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018.

Perched high in the bleachers of the visitors’ section, Barry Taylor watched intently as his grandson’s team tied the game, 7-7, about a half hour into Friday night’s football game pitting the Burrell Bucs against the Valley Vikings.

The neighboring rivals faced off in the first game of the season for teams in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the entire WPIAL -- and the palpable energy, intense cheers and fresh popcorn filling the stands brought back memories for Taylor of his own days playing football decades ago for Burrell.

“I like seeing him play on this field,” said Taylor, 65, whose grandson, Shane Demharter, is a sophomore on Valley’s team this year. “I used to go to Burrell, and my grandkids and my kids went to Valley, so it’s a rivalry even between us,” Taylor said with a soft chuckle.

The Bucs vs. Vikings showdown made for an especially exciting start to the season, said Jennifer Neilen, of Arnold, whose daughter, 14-year-old Angelina Jeter, is a freshman cheerleader for the Vikings.

“It’s a lot more hype, all the kids come out -- even people that graduated in the past few years -- they all come out,” Neilen said.

Equipped with a blue megaphone and booming voice, 17-year-old Joey Ficca led Burrell student fans in raucous cheers and chants in their section of the bleachers dubbed “The Ship.”

“This is a big game; they have a huge student section over there, we’ve got a bigger one,” Joey said. “My dad went to Burrell, and he says that the rivalry was big back then. It’s just fun.”

Several fans said they were torn over which team they wanted to win -- Valley ultimately prevailed 26-21 -- because they had ties to both teams, or both the neighboring New Kensington-Arnold and Lower Burrell communities.

At least one Burrell Bucs fan sported a T-shirt honoring fallen New Kensington Officer Brian Shaw.

“I went to Burrell, I graduated in 2000, and now my daughter cheers for Valley. It’s kind of funny,” Neilen said. “I don’t know who to cheer for ... but I’m definitely rooting her on.”

Gary Alford, 75, a retired steelworker, said he’s been going to Burrell High School football games for some 45 straight years.

His son didn’t play football but his grandson, now grown, did for Lower Burrell, Alford said shortly before taking his great-grandson to the concessions area, where a large banner displays Burrell’s past WPIAL championship titles -- from its first in 1967 to its championship victory in 2012.

Young children -- many decked out in team colors, and some with face paint -- played tag and munched on large salted pretzels and french fries slathered with chili and cheese while their parents bought raffle tickets and baked goods in support of the Burrell Band.

Chris Haidze, whose son plays the clarinet in that band, walked up and down the stands selling $1 popcorn. He passed one bag up to a young boy sitting beside Anna Rogers, of Upper Burrell, whose daughter, a senior, is captain of the color guard, The Sapphires. That makes the halftime show Rogers’ favorite part of the night.

“It’s very emotional for me today, though, because it’s her last first game,” Rogers said. “When I’m not crying, it’s awesome.”

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