I think I was heading into seventh grade when it started, and I recall being extremely excited to be involved from the very beginning. It was immediately the “place to be” for kids my age, and for high-school students and adults, too. In those days, the rivalry between the new Wheeling Park High and Central Catholic High was fresh, it was real, and, as far as a 13-year-old was concerned, it was about bragging rights and not politics of any sort.
If my memory is correct, it really all started with the chance of the nickname for my parochial school’s sports teams. What was a “Mike Man” anyway? Our colors, blue and gold, were the best in my pubescent mind because the Mountaineers donned the same, but even though Saint Michael defeated Satan in the New Testament’s Book of Revelations, the nickname, perhaps to me only, seemed sort of dumb. That’s why I completely agreed with changing it to something that was something.
Ballots were handed out to all St. Mike’s students, and while I’m unable to recall each of the options, I do know I voted for the winner – “Mustangs.” Next I believe the adults announced there would be a festival in the summer, and it would be called the “Mustang Country Fair.” What I cared about the most was the teen dance on Saturday night, helping my dad, who was one of the guys roasting chickens and corn on the cob in the convent’s front yard, and the games that involved throwing something at a target.
The dunk tank was my favorite, especially when one of my teachers was resting on the plank.
Those teen dances typically presented awkward situations with the girls on one side of the gymnasium and the boys on the other. The girls would dance to the fast-paced music, and when the tunes slowed the guys either got up the guts to cross the court to ask someone to dance, or they later regretted not doing so. Disco was cool back then for reasons I still fail to understand, but Styx, The Commodores, and Journey songs often called out the man inside the boy.
The members of my Class of 1981 are gaining ground on our 50th birthdays, but one memory that is very clear to all of us involves the old car that fair officials tossed on the school’s front yard. During those days it was fine and dandy to hand pre-teen kids a sledgehammer and let them bang away at that windowless automobile as many times as they wanted.
Today? Not so much ….
I can also recall the fair the summer between my 1981 graduation from St. Mike’s and my freshman year at Linsly, and that’s because several of my classmates were angry with me. My parents had made the decision they would sacrifice to send me to the college prep school instead of Wheeling Central, and that meant I was choosing the rival over the usual flow to East Wheeling.
But I wouldn’t have those memories if not for the efforts of the men and women who were the parents of my classmates. My doctor, my dentist, my barber, they were all involved, and so was Denise’s dad and Mike’s mom, and so on and so on.
And the same is true with what is now referred to as the “St. Michael Parish Community Festival.” Many families, like the Marshalls, remain involved today, and many of the current organizers are alumni, like Kristy Riedel, and they did not disappoint again this year. The food was delicious – my wife raved for a few hours about Charlie Schlegel’s steak taco – and the live entertainment was excellent. Jeff “Smokedaddy” Tappe has served as the Saturday evening headliner for many years, and this summer he was joined by the powerful voice of Amy Jo Hutchison.
This past Saturday my wife and I also joined my father once again to assist him and the Knights of Columbus with serving up the brews near the steps to the rectory, and that allowed me to recall the many times I served as an altar boy or as a reader of the Gospel or when one of our classmate studs smacked a whiffle ball that distance from near National Road during our legendary playground battles.
Far too often events like this one fade away because when younger folks are needed, they fail to step up and do something to preserve the traditions, but not at St. Mike’s. The event vanished for a couple of years, but thanks to those fond recollections the miracle of resurrection took place once again, and new memories have been made ever since.
(Photos by Steve Novotney)