In September 1871 the first high school curriculum was organized in New Castle, Pennsylvania, at the old Reynoldstown School (later known as the Central School and W.N. Aiken School) on Pearson Street. This may have been the first “official” high school class, but I’ve read about Professor Martin Gantz teaching a handful of high school-aged students in the Union School soon after it opened in 1852.
In about 1879 a dedicated high school, with a capacity for 350 pupils, was built on the corner of North and East Streets. It was through the determined efforts of Professor Gantz, serving as Superintendent of the New Castle School District, that the school was built despite much opposition. Class sizes were initially small and the 1887 graduating class, overseen by principal R.C. Hartshorne, was comprised of only a dozen students. The classes slowly increased in size and by June 1901 the school, then under the guidance of principal W. Fowler Bucke, had graduated a total of about 800 pupils. In 1904 Bucke was succeeded as principal by distinguished G.A. Dickson, who served in that post until 1912 and later served as Superintendent of New Castle Schools from 1914-1919.
By about 1906, when the high school was home to about 500 pupils, the students had to be split into half-day morning and afternoon sessions. A “classical” course of classroom study was undertaken for students from 8am until 1pm, while a “commercial” (or technical) course was offered from 1pm until 5pm.
A debate soon got underway to determine whether to upgrade and expand this aging school or build a new one. Actually the school board and the community had envisioned a plan, after dividing the city into separate districts, to build several high schools in the coming years. In June 1907, after it was decided to purchase property and build a single consolidated high school with a total budget of $200,000, a special committee of school board members visited various other established high schools in the region to gain some further insight on the matter.
In July 1907, after narrowing the choices down to seven different locations, the board of education purchased the so-called “Berger site” on Lincoln Avenue for $37,500. Other sites considered included Boyles Field on Highland Avenue, the Marshall property on Pittsburg Street, the P.J. Watson property of Leasure Avenue, the Charles Phillips lot of South Grant Street, and part of the old fairgrounds along Winter Avenue. The Berger site selection led to much criticism as many people wanted a more central location, better access to trolley lines, and more room for athletic fields. Despite buying the property the school board entertained several offers to exchange the property for another location, but never went through with it.
Beginning in late August 1907 the school board reviewed the various preliminary drawings and plans for a new school submitted by a handful of local architects to include W.G. Eckles, A.L. Thayer, Frank Foulk, and Andrew Schuehle. On September 5, 1907, the Eckles firm was selected for the job, but the other architects protested for what they said was an unfair selection process favoring Eckles. A nasty legal dispute ensued in which the school board sued the New Castle News for libel. The case went to trial in February 1908 and the jury essentially decided in favor of the newspaper.
Eckles went to work but a dispute over compensation slowed things down and final plans were not finalized until May 1908. Two months later the first construction bids were solicited, but none of those were approved and the next two years featured constant disagreements and delays. In was not until June 1910 that construction at the Berger site finally got underway.
The impressive looking building was formally opened for classes on Monday, September 11, 1911, with Dickson still serving as principal. I believe it was at this time that the half-day classroom sessions ended and all students returned to a full day. The building was still not completely finished and various improvements, stalled by a frugal school board, were completed over the next two years. By all accounts the school had a rather low key opening and just when an official dedication ceremony took place seems to be a mystery at this point. Despite the building being a grand structure it seems it opened to little fanfare.
Dickson stepped down in July 1912 and subsequent principals included Edward Sargent from 1912-14 and J.L. Thalman from 1914-17. It was in July 1917 that school board hired Indiana native Frank L. Orth as principal. Orth, who had been teaching science at the school since 1906, would guide the school as its principal for the next twenty-five years until retiring in July 1942. He was succeeded by the distinguished Clare B. Book, a longtime local educator, who served as principal until retiring in July 1960.
Beginning in the fall of 1922 the New Castle School District explored the idea of a one-semester enrollment. High school students would attend classes for only half the school year, from September-January or January-June. This was considered for several reasons to include as a cost-cutting measure, but also to alleviate issues with overcrowding. In January 1923 the school board (and several other township school districts followed) decided to implement this plan and began phasing it in. In January 1927 the first class of the one-semester system was scheduled to graduate, but the plan was delayed just before commencement – forcing the seniors (25 total) to attend the full year. The first one-semester class to graduate from Ne-Ca-Hi finally took place in January 1928, followed by the second class in June 1928. Due to dwindling enrollment and other factors, this system was phased out beginning in the early 1940’s and the last mid-year (or split-year) class graduated in January 1947. The way the system was phased out the June 1947 graduates likely attended a full year. A standard September-June class was adhered moving forward.
Without an athletic field of their own the sports teams, known as the Red Hurricane, played most of their home games at Cascade Park and Boyles Field. It was not until the 1923 season, with the opening of the new Ben Franklin Junior High School, that the high school football team started playing at the junior high’s Franklin Field – renamed Taggart Field in December 1929 in honor of the late Superintendent of New Castle Schools John C. Taggart (1863-1929).
In June 1922 the school board made a great decision when it hired Philip H. Bridenbaugh, a Franklin & Marshall College graduate coming over from the gridiron program at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, to join the faculty as a mathematics teacher and head football coach. It was under his guidance that the football squad emerged as a legitimate football power. When “Bridey” finally retired in late 1955 he had amassed a record of 265-65-25 including seven WPIAL Class AA championships (’24, ’32, ’33, ’34, ’42, ’48, ’49) ten undefeated seasons, and seven one-loss seasons. He also coached the basketball team to two WPIAL Class AA championships (’27, ’36) and had similar success with the track team. Some reports indicate that at the time of his retirement from New Castle (he did serve as an assistant coach at Grove City College for another nine seasons) he had the fourth most wins of any high school coach in history.
One of Bridenbaugh’s most memorable victories came on Saturday, October 29, 1937, when the Red Hurricane traveled to Ohio to take on the powerhouse Massillon (Washington High) Tigers. The Tigers were coached by the legendary Paul Brown (1908-1991), considered one of the greatest coaches in football history, and then in the midst of a twenty-eight game winning streak. Before a crowd of 11,000 frenzied fans the New Castle boys prevailed 7-0 on the strength of running back Lindoro “Lindy” Lauro’s second quarter touchdown toss to senior captain and wideout Eddie Sovesky. Massillon smarted from the blemish and subsequently reeled off a twenty-two game win streak, including revenge-laden 52-7 and 46-0 drubbings of New Castle in 1938 and 1939.
After Orth retired as principal in 1942 he was succeeded by the distinguished Clare B. Book, a longtime educator who had served as a principal of schools in West Pittsburg, Shenango Township, and New Castle since 1920. He would serve as principal until he formally retired in June 1960 as was succeeded by Vern W. Alderson from 1960-64 and Fred Y. McClure from 1964-73.
A few years after Bridenbaugh departed in 1955 the school board struck gold again when it hired former student Lindy Lauro as a history teacher and new head football coach in 1961. Lauro, following on the heels of his mentor, proved his worth while amassing a 220-104-15 record over the next thirty-two years. He guided the team to three WPIAL Class AAA championships (’67, ’73, ’75) and six undefeated seasons. In 1987, when he won his 200 game, Ne-Ca-Hi became the first high school in the country to have two coaches that eclipsed the 200 win barrier. That same season New Castle became only the first high school in Pennsylvania to reach 600 total victories in its history. When Lauro stepped down after the 1992 season he epitomized what makes high school football in Western Pennsylvania so special. Despite all the accolades on the field when you hear former players speak of Lauro it’s primarily about him being a mentor, casting a positive influence, and giving young kids something to believe in.
New Castle High School, affectionately known as Ne-Ca-Hi, remained in operation for over ninety years until it was finally closed in 2003. In the late 1990’s an oft-spirited debate concerning a new high school got underway in New Castle. The Eckles Architecture firm was once again pegged to draw up the plans for a modern senior high school that would eventually cost $49 million and be built on the same approximate site on Lincoln Avenue. The plan was later modified to include a new junior high wing – adding seventh and eighth graders – and to close Ben Franklin Junior High School as a result.
Additional property was acquired right next door to the old high school on Lincoln Avenue and about a dozen homes were razed. Ground was finally broken in July 2002, but various issues delayed construction from not getting underway until September. The modern New Castle Senior-Junior High School, the new home of the Red Hurricane, opened for senior high level students on Wednesday, September 1, 2004. About 1,100 pupils, adhering to a newly instituted school uniform policy, entered the school that day. Meanwhile, the demolition of the old high school was underway and the new junior high wing would be built over that site. When construction was finally completed a year later the building also took on junior high students and opened – a few weeks behind other area schools – on Monday, September 12, 2005.
Many of my family members, including my grandfather Ray Bales Sr., my father Jeff Bales Sr., and my uncle Ray Bales Jr. graduated from the old Ne-Ca-Hi.
To learn about why Principal W. Fowler Bucke took a leave of absence in 1901 click on: RETURNED TO THE CITY ARTICLE. To read about injuries suffered by the quarterback of the New Castle High School football team in 1904 click on: HURT IN FOOTBALL ARTICLE. To read about a plan to abolish the commercial department of the high school in May 1906 click on: PLAN TO REDUCE ARTICLE. The football team was apparently disbanded for violations in 1906. To read more about it click on: FOOTBALL GAME HERE ARTICLE. To read about preliminary sites being considered for the new high school in late 1906 click on: HIGH SCHOOL SITE ARTICLE. To read about the Berger site being selected in July 1907 click on: BERGER SITE CHOSEN ARTICLE. To read a very informative newspaper editorial about the high school from December 1908 click on: DISTRICT HIGH SCHOOL EDITORIAL. To read about the commencement exercises held in June 1909 click on: COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES ARTICLE. To learn more about a dispute in May 1910 that threatened to delay the construction of the new school click on: MAY AFFECT HIGH SCHOOL ARTICLE. To read a short mention about the new school site in the Hints and Dints section of the New Castle News in May 1910 click on: TICKLED TO DEATH ARTICLE. To read about the progress of the construction on the new school in June 1910 click on: WORK PROGRESSING ARTICLE. To read about a booklet available to parents of students who will be attending the new high school in 1911 click on: INFORMATION ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL ARTICLE. To read about the planned opening of the new school in September 1911 click on: HIGH SCHOOL TO OPEN ARTICLE. To read an article about the dedication of the Homestead High School (also designed by Eckles) that also mentions the lack of attention given to the recently-opened New Castle High School click on: HANDSOME HIGH SCHOOL DEDICATED ARTICLE. To about the cost-cutting ways of the school board in early 1912 click on: COST OF SHOWER ARTICLE. To read about the first graduation of students from the new high school in June 1912 click on: HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION ARTICLE. To read about the resignation of G.A. Dickson as principal in July 1912 click on: PRINCIPAL DICKSON RESIGNS ARTICLE. To learn more cigarettes being banned at the school in September 1912 click on: CIGARETTES UNDER BAN ARTICLE. To learn more about the formation of the alumni association and composing of the school song in 1913 click on: ALUMNI FORM ORGANIZATION ARTICLE and SCHOOL SONG ARTICLE. To read about the appointment of J.L. Thalman as principal in June 1914 click on: THALMAN ACCEPTS ARTICLE. To read about a rather nasty dispute concerning the New Castle-Sharon football game of October 1937, in which Sharon prevailed 13-7, click on: LOSES HARD GAME ARTICLE and EFFORTS MADE TO END ARGUMENT ARTICLE. To read a detailed article from 1915 about the daily life in the spacious high school click on: MINIATURE CITY ARTICLE. To read about Frank Orth being named principal in July 1917 click on: ORTH NEW PRINCIPAL ARTICLE. To read about a lack of typewriters at the school in late 1917 click on: MORE TYPEWRITERS NEEDED ARTICLE. To read an article from 1919 that details the history of the high school in New Castle click on: BEGINNING OF HI SCHOOL ARTICLE.
A list of classes required by New Castle High School students in the last 1890’s. (1896) Full Size
The 1909 football team, coached by Thomas V. Malloy (derby hat), played its home games at Boyles Field. Full Size
The architect’s rendering of the proposed new high school on Lincoln Avenue. Full Size
The senior class that graduated in May 1919. (1919) Full Size
The varsity basketball team of 1918-19, led by senior captain Floyd D. Yeager. (1918) Full Size
The football squad of the fall of 1925 was led by senior quarterback Ralph “Scoots” Day. This group finished the season 9-1 with all victories coming by way of the shutout. The only points given up were during a disappointing late season loss (14-0 score) to rival Ellwood City. This was one of the best defensive teams in school history yet – unlike the 1924 team – they failed to capture the WPIAL Class AA crown. (1925) Full Size
The faculty of the New Castle High School from the 1928-29 school year. Principal Frank Orth can be seen in hat in upper left. Can you pick out a young teacher and football coach named Phil Bridenbaugh? (1928) Full Size
The boys varsity track team from the spring of 1930. (1930) Full Size
The school library. (c1929) Full Size
An art class in the high school. (c1929) Full Size
An admission ticket for the 1942 commencement exercises held at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
A picture of the coaching staff, including longtime head coach Phil Bridenbaugh, of the Ne-Ca-Hi football team in September 1940.
The Ne-Ca-Hi cheerleaders pictured here from the fall 1942 football season. Full Size
The 1922 football squad was the first with Coach Bridenbaugh at the helm. This team finished 8-0-1 with its lone blemish a scoreless tie against Beaver Falls. The team defeated Grove City 28-7 before 5,000 screaming fans on Thanksgiving Day at Cascade Park to finish the successful season. Full Size
Head coach Philip “Bridey” Bridenbaugh and his assistants Gig Thomas and Bill Klee. (1925) Full Size
The 1933 Red Hurricane, captained by Walter Kominic, finished 13-0-0 and gave up only 26 points all season. The team dominated its competition throughout the campaign and pitched a 39-0 shutout of Sharon to win the WPIAL Class AA crown. Full Size
One of Coach Bridenbaugh’s greatest players was the African-American running back known as General Lee. Robert “Bobby” Lee played for Ne-Ca-Hi from 1940-1942 after tearing up the junior leagues with George Washington High School. In the above photo Lee is scoring one of his three touchdowns in the 1942 WPIAL Class AA championship game against Aliquippa. After World War II concluded Lee went onto to star at the University of Pittsburgh, in a backfield that included Ne-Ca-Hi alumni Lindy Lauro. Lee went on to play for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League throughout the 1950’s and later became a high school football coach in Toronto. Full Size
The 1942 team, captained by star running back Bobby “General” Lee, finished the regular season 8-1-1, including wins over Mt. Lebanon 20-6 and Farrell 33-12. The team lost its last regular season game to Warren 7-6, but rebounded to whip Aliquippa 25-0 to win the WPIAL Class AA crown. Full Size
A Goal Post football program from September 1936.
Goal Post program from October 1957.
Lindy Lauro grew up in New Castle and graduated from Ne-Ca-Hi in 1940. During the next two decades he attended Roosevelt Military Academy and University of Alabama, served wartime duty in the U.S. Army Air Forces, played football and earned a degree at the University of Pittsburgh, played a few years in the National Football League, coached collegiate football at Dickinson College and the University of Dayton, spent time coaching in the Canadian Football League, and returned to the area in 1960 and soon took over as head football coach at his alma mater. (1988) Full Size
The New Castle High School’s varsity basketball squad, led by coaches Eli Danilov and Don Black, during the 1957-58 school year. The team finished with a 12-11 record, but that included a thrilling upset of powerhouse Wampum High by a score of 60-56.Full Size
Early 1950’s Ne-Ca-Hi cheerleaders. My aunt Connie (Russo) Hake is 4th from left.
Group photo of cheerleaders from early 1950’s with Connie (Russo) Hake in back row 2nd from left.
Students standing in the hallway in front of the gymnasium during the 1957-58 school year. Full Size
A pic of the outside of the high school, with the gymnasium visible on the left. (1958) Full Size
Once the west wing was completed and old school building was demolished to allow the construction of the modern school to be continued over that site. (Feb 2003) Full Size
(Mar 2003) Full Size
The modern New Castle Senior/Junior High School, which opened in 2004 on the site of the longstanding second high school (1911-2003). (Jul 2010)
The New Castle High School shines in the twilight. (May 2013) Full Size
(Jul 2013) Full Size
(Jul 2013) Full Size
(Jul 2013) Full Size