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Football frenzy hits high gear for Raiders

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    Tamaqua Area High School cheerleader Morgan Miller, a Leiby’s Restaurant employee, center, leads co-workers and customers in a rousing “Go Raiders!” in support of the Tamaqua football team in their history-making trip to Wyoming Valley to take on Wyoming Area in the PIAA Class AAA State Semi-Final. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    Tamaqua residents line the streets late at night in bitter cold on November 22 to welcome the Blue Raiders football team, fans and band members after Tamaqua team beat top-ranked Wyomissing Area, a feat no other football team was able to do this year.

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    The Tamaqua football team arrives home late Friday night after dealing a knockout blow to previously undefeated and top-ranked Wyomissing Area. (DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    Members of the Tamaqua Spirit Committee are shown Tuesday night preparing to put streamers on signs and utility poles: left, Michele Weaver, Justin Startzel, Michelle Mehallic and Kathy Nunemacher. Missing from photo is Tara Chernov Hamm.

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    Dave Barron of New England Valley was a linebacker on the 1962 Tamaqua team that shut out Blakey, 14-0, and captured the Eastern Conference title, the ultimate prize back then. Grandson Jake is a middle linebacker and tight end on this year’s championship squad that will take on Wyoming Area on Friday in the PIAA Class AAA Semi-Final. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published November 29. 2019 12:57PM

Today may be Black Friday in most other places.

But in Tamaqua, it’s Blue Raider Day.

Truth is, it’s been Blue Raider Day since Aug. 23, when the high school football team opened the season by walloping Line Mountain, 40-0.

And now, with December right around the corner, Tamaqua is still playing football. Several weeks ago, theBlue Raiders captured the school’s first-ever District 11 gridiron championship in convincing style. After that came a history-making state playoff victory over highly touted Pope John Paul II High School in Royersford, suburban Philadelphia. Next, they took down previously undefeated Wyomissing of the Reading area — the state’s top-ranked Class 3A team.

Tonight, Coach Sam Bonner’s Blue Raiders travel to Kingston to square off against Wyoming Area High School in the PIAA Class 3A State semifinals, the winner advancing to the state championship game in Hershey.

It’s the deepest run of any football squad in 100+ years of the sport at Tamaqua High. And everyone is taking notice.

The frenzy

The town is in full football frenzy as the community rallies behind the team.

Blue and white flags and streamers adorn parking meters and posts. Homes and businesses shout out with signs of support. On Tuesday, Mike Hromyak, TASD athletic director, announced that Kistler Transportation has donated use of buses for fans. Lehigh Anthracite has provided large, comfortable transit coaches for the team.

It’s the biggest game for the town since 1962 when Tamaqua Area Joint Senior High School’s Blue Raiders coached by Dick Jones shut out Blakely 14-0 to capture the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference title. Back then, before a state title existed, a Conference title was considered just as lofty. The old school fight song, “On Tamaqua,” to the tune of “On Wisconsin,” was the battle cry.

Many local residents remember the excitement of ‘62 and are thrilled to be part of a modern-day replay.

“I know they’re going to win,” said Dave Barron Sr. of New England Valley, linebacker for the ‘62 champs and part of a football family. His cousin, the late George Barron, an All-State fullback, was a key part of the team and coal region football legend.

Barron’s son, David Jr., is president of the Tamaqua Area Football Boosters Association and father of Jake, a middle linebacker and tight end of the current squad.

David Jr. says the high-powered team has been many years in the making. Lots of practice and hard work. And plenty of talent. In fact, as youngsters, the team grabbed the regional knee-hi football title under coaches Mike Van Buskirk, Dennis Wickersham and Barron. In junior high, they went undefeated.

“They’re a phenomenal group,” he said. They realize the town and entire region is pulling for them and yet, “They are all so humble.”

Wide interest

Ecstatic Blue Raider fans see this year’s spectacular season as the ultimate.

“In 1962 as a second grader, that championship felt like the greatest thing ever. This season, for the Raiders to have earned the opportunity to possibly play for a state championship is even greater. I can’t put into words the excitement I feel for my alma mater and my town,” said Debbie Meredith Delp, Class of 1972.

Business owners say they’ve noticed a distinct football buzz among customers. Those not attending the games in person have been following live telecasts.

“We turn on four televisions for our customers and they’re really into it, even the ones from out of the area,” said Alfie Picone of DiMaggio’s La Dolce Casa, Tamaqua.

“We plan to join with the Tamaqua Salvation Army to provide a dinner to the players and coaches.”

Leiby’s Restaurant in South Tamaqua, was among the first businesses to decorate in blue and white, thanks to efforts of employee Morgan Miller, a Tamaqua cheerleader.

“We listen to live feeds of the games and everyone who is working is watching it,” said owner Dan Leiby, a Tamaqua grad.

“We offer a Blue Raider Sundae, too,” added employee Chrissy Stumhofer of New Ringgold. The ice cream treat includes waffle cone, blue and white sprinkles, whipped cream and a cherry.

Frank Fabrizio of Remember When Video is a 1981 Tamaqua alumnus and excited about the team’s success.

“I’ve been watching and keeping up with them,” he said.

Another fan intimately familiar with the nuances of championship caliber football is Tom Jones of New England Valley.

Jones earned praise playing right half back on the legendary ‘62 team.

“It’s been over 50 years and it seems like yesterday,” Jones said. “My advice to this team is play hard, stay focused, and do your best.”

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