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High School

“Mr. High School Sports” – Clairton and its Coach Lonely at the Top

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Tom Nola

Head coach Tom Nola has won 115 games, including Friday’s PIAA Class A Final, since taking over Clairton’s football program in 2002. (File photo: Clairton Bears Football)

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

Tom Nola’s 115th win was one for the ages. Kudos to the administrators at Clairton High School for giving their student body the day off Friday so they could be a part of it.

Clairton’s 35-19 victory over Southern Columbia at Hersheypark Stadium gave Nola’s Bears a third straight PIAA Class A title and their 47th win in a row in their fourth consecutive state championship game appearance…all unprecedented in WPIAL football history.

He says so little for a head football coach who has accomplished something none of his contemporaries have, so needless to say, Nola was at a loss for words when he talked briefly with NewsRadio 1020 KDKA’s Rob Pratte after an emotional day for the team and community:

That’s okay, he’s let his team do all the talking for him, and you’d better believe people will be talking about what it has accomplished long after Nola’s time as patriarch of the program is up.

Last year Clairton had an enrollment of 124, with a senior class of 50. This year, Nola’s tenth at the school, little more than 30 varsity football players suited up, some of them hailing from the JV squad. But despite ongoing personnel issues and ongoing chatter about mergers with other South Hills schools that have been repeatedly rejected by those in question, Nola was able to lay the foundation for Clairton’s dominance long before Friday.

Since 2006, the first of six consecutive years of double-digit wins by the Bears, they have gone 86-5 under Nola.

They have outscored their opponents by 3,118 points (3,683 to 565)–the equivalent of 519.6 touchdowns–during that span.

Clairton has won by an average score of 40.9 to 6.3 points. In other words, Clairton practically averaged a mercy-rule win each week. Imagine if the Bears had a bench to empty…

The program won’t get any bigger, with ten more seniors on their way out, nor will the community itself since being ravaged by the fall of the steel industry. One of those mergers might still be in the cards some day for Clairton. Nevertheless, Nola’s kids have continued to persevere despite not enjoying some of the same advantages as the other top teams in the WPIAL, making this story what it is.

It’s lonely at the top. But I defy you to name a team that could keep Clairton company.

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)

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