From a Sports Illustrated senior writer, a moving epic of football and industrial America, telling the story of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, its now-shuttered steel mill, and its legendary high school team
Playing Through the Whistle
Steel, Football, and an American Town
Atlantic Monthly Press
978-0-8021-2564-4 • $27.00 • Cloth • Oct. 2016
Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, a small town twenty-six miles down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, is famous for two things: the Jones & Laughlin steel mill, an industrial behemoth that helped win World War II; and football, with a high school team that has produced numerous NFL stars, including Mike Ditka and Darrelle Revis. But the mill, once the fourth-largest producer in America, employer of over fifteen thousand people in a town of twenty-six thousand, started withering in the 1980s and closed for good in 2000. What happens to a town when a dream dies? Does it just disappear?
In Playing Through the Whistle, celebrated sportswriter S. L. Price tells the story of this remarkable place, its people, its players, and, through it, a wider story of American history from the turn of the twentieth century. Aliquippa has been many thingsa rigidly controlled company town, a booming racial and ethnic melting pot, a battleground for union rights, and, for a brief time, a sort of workers’ paradise. Price expertly traces this history, following the growth and decline of industry and the struggles and triumphs of Eastern European immigrants and blacks from the South willing to trade their grueling labor for a better life for their families.
Alongside, Price recounts the birth and development of high school sports, from a minor pastime to a source of civic pride, to today, when it can sometimes seem like the only way out of a life of poverty, drug abuse, and crime. And yet the tough town of Aliquippa endures, churning out state champions, charismatic coaches, and legendary players. Playing Through the Whistle is sportswriting at its best, a masterpiece of narrative journalism that will make you cry and cheer in equal measure.