One Friday night in September, my family and I decided to attend a Weir High football game. This was to be my first Friday night high school football game in at least 15 years or more. In fact, the last time I attended a game was at the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in downtown Weirton, off Virginia Avenue.
Nestled between a hillside and the mill, the whole was full of character. The old concrete stands were unique, and I have a distinct memory of spectators, mostly older men, standing under the announcer’s booth, smoking cigars and cigarettes while watching the game. The white smoke billowing, mixing with the crisp autumn air under those giant floodlights, made the scene memorable. And who could forget the announcement of Bob Rossell, whose distinct voice would echo through the night, bouncing off the chimneys and walls of the nearby sheet metal shop amid the jubilant crowd?
I always thought the old stadium was a bit out of place, to be fair. It seemed to be hidden away and inaccessible to the visiting team. My family often parked downtown on Main Street near the Strip Steel office and walked to the stadium. We sometimes stopped at an establishment called the “48.” My dad tells me that at one time the hot rolling mill at Weirton Steel could roll a 48 inch steel slab into a coil (hence the name) weighing around 20 tons on average depending on length and specification client.
Later the Hot Mill extended to 54 inches. This place was near Mill Gate 5, you could see it from the front door, and it was a popular place for mill workers and families before the Weir High game. Here, factory workers could cash their paychecks, but the cashier kept the change as payment for the service.
The company had been there for a long time, before the 1950s, certainly before my time, but I remember it was crowded before the games. Leaving the place with my friends, we started the climb up Virginia Avenue to the stadium. On the corner of Virginia Avenue and West Street once stood the old Jewish Beth Israel Synagogue, and one morning before a Weir High game it collapsed. The building was built in 1927 and obviously in a state of disrepair. We drove past the Telephone Building, now Union Hall, and past the crowded factory parking lots to the stadium.
The stadium was not always on its own, but was part of the old Weir High School complex which faced Orchard Street. These buildings constructed in 1917 and 1923 respectively ceased to be a high school in 1963 and were demolished in the early 1980s. The site of the old Weir High stadium had been occupied since about 1794 by Griffith House. This stone building served as a blockhouse at a time in our local history when the threat of Native American attack was common in our area.
If threatened with attack, nearby settlers could move to this fortified stone building to repel their enemy. This building was demolished to make way for the new stadium which, according to local historian Dennis Jones in his book “Weirton – A Show of Nations,” “was completed in the summer of 1935 at a cost of $50,000, and on Labor Day the second annual Festival of Nations would become the first official event to be held there, attracting over 15,000 visitors .”
The Festival of Nations was an idea, according to Jones, that was featured in Weir High’s 1929 yearbook where all of Weirton’s nationalities were represented in one show. The first festival in 1934 was held at the new Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool on Marland Heights, where, according to Jones, around 10,000 people gathered for the festivities. The purpose of the festival was “designed to be non-competitive and create a sense of brotherhood and unity between different ethnic groups and also provide heartwarming memories of their homeland.”
From 1935 to 1944, the annual event was held at the stadium. During World War II, the festival grew from celebrating distinct nationalities to promoting our common endeavor at the time, the cause of freedom, and inspiring patriotism during this difficult time.
After the festivals ended, the stadium only hosted high school football. The first football game to be held at the stadium was on September 21, 1935, and Weir beat Cleveland South, 14-0.
Also that year, coach Carl Hamill led the team to a season-high 10-0-0, and the school were state champions. The first night game was on September 16, 1938, in which Weir defeated Follansbee, 27-0. In 1981, the stadium was renamed Jimmy Carey Stadium in honor of the late coach Jimmy Carey. Many students who have played at the stadium have gone on to professional careers.
The Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center maintains a list of professional Weirton athletes, not just football players, but also basketball, baseball and professional golfers who have had a connection with Weirton at some point. given. The list is not complete, but those who played on the field include Bob Gain, a 1947 Weir graduate who went on to play for the Ottawa Rough Riders and Cleveland Browns; Bob Jeter, a Weir graduate in 1956, who later played for the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears; Bill Tucker, a 1962 Weir High graduate who later played for the San Francisco 49’rs and Chicago Bears; Tony Jeter, Weir High grad 1962, who later played for the Pittsburgh Steelers; Gene Trosch, a Madonna graduate in 1963 who went on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs; and in my day, Quincy Wilson, a graduate of Weir High in 1999, who went on to play for the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals.
The list goes on and it is very impressive that so many professionals have come from our city and excelled in the sport. Today there is a marker made from the goal post of the old Weir High Stadium on the corner of Cove Road and Weir Avenue, which lists known Weirton athletes. The marker was installed in 2014. It is appropriate to be located along Weir Avenue as this street has the distinction of producing at least seven professional athletes all within a few blocks.
Weirton’s sporting heritage is rich.
The story of the old stadium ended on October 28, 2011, when Weir High played their last game at the ground against East Liverpool, losing 40-0. After 76 years of community events, the doors were closed for the last time to enthusiastic fans, enthusiastic groups and determined players.
The following August, the new Jimmy Carey Stadium was dedicated, next to Weir High. This place now holds about a decade of memories for a new generation of students and members of our community. I’m sure if the new place lasts as long as the last stadium, great things will happen on this ground.