Even in a fairy tale the dragon gets slayed. Pittsburgh Allderdice’s historic run ended Saturday night as its boys’ varsity basketball team lost, 73-62, to Roman Catholic in the PIAA Class AAAA championship in Hershey. Bittersweet, the experience will long be savored by the Dragons’ faithful.
“I don’t want to say the game was secondary, but the generational excitement was historic,” said Lenny Silberman, class of 1973. “The generations that came here is off the charts — people in their 50s, 60s and even 70s reliving memories of Allderdice and reconnecting. This is bigger than the Steelers, the Penguins. This is home.”
“It means so much to see people come together to support our kids,” said Melissa Friez, Allderdice’s principal and a member of the class of 1997. “Not many schools can say they have that kind of following. Whether two years have passed or 40 years, there’s strong alumni that support us.”
The familial green filling Allderdice’s spirited sections in the Giant Center represented students, alumni and community members. Led in cheer by Allderdice’s dragon mascot, Friez, or Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Linda Lane, the group sensed Saturday’s singularity with sincere celebration.
“This could be once in a lifetime,” said Jeff Solomon, class of 1984.
He and his wife, Linda (née Lewis, class of ’84), were compelled to travel from New York City.
“She was my prom date,” Solomon said of his wife. “Allderdice is a big part of who we are. We wanted to come out and support our team.”
“It’s a part of you forever,” said Steve Rosenberg, class of ’83. “That place prepared me for the world. It’s a real melting pot. The kids don’t realize how lucky they are.”
Rosenberg drove in from Philadelphia. “I would have driven 10 hours to come here,” he said.
Eight busloads of students and chaperones departed Pittsburgh on Saturday, stated Lane. “Plus the people who drove in cars.”
“I came with my two sons and their families from New York City,” said Mel Solomon, class of ’61. “This is it. It’s a community event.”
“It’s great to watch it as a whole community. There are many generations of Allderdice here,” said Greg Colker, class of ’86. “It’s great to see everybody.”
“We’re with the Squirrel Hill contingent,” said Irwin “Itsy” Wedner, class of ’58. “We came to see the team.”
Wedner traveled with his wife, Gail, class of ’62, and son Jim, class of ’90.
“We’re basketball junkies,” said Gail.
Reflecting on the team’s loss, Wedner added, “We had a lot of yids but not enough mazel.”
“They did one hell of a job. No matter win or lose, we’re proud of them,” said Ellie Bails Levine, class of January 1962.
“Growing up in Pittsburgh there’s camaraderie among people, it spreads,” said Levine, who along with her husband, Sheldon Levine, class of ’60, attended every playoff game this season.
For some, the trek to Hershey was nostalgia-driven, for others a personal connection.
“I played on the team in 1975 with Buddy [Valinsky, Allderdice’s head coach],” said David Schwartz, class of ’75, who traveled from Oklahoma. “I told him if you make it to the finals I’ll come to the game.”
“My dad coached Buddy,” said Michael Neiberg, class of ’87, who came from Carlisle, Pa. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Buddy was a coach of mine at the JCC, and Andy Pakler (an Allderdice assistant coach) was my camper at Emma Kaufmann Camp,” said Kyle Solomon, class of ’87, who traveled from New York. “There are a lot of cross connections, a lot of good feelings.”
“There’s a connection with the JCC,” echoed Jim Wedner, class of ’90, who came from Florida. “Buddy coached me when I was 12, Jeff Cohen (Allderdice assistant coach) coached with me at the JCC, and Andy Pakler, I coached. Just to see it from that perspective, growing up in the community, it brings back a lot of good memories.
“To come back and reunite with my high school coach, Howard Bullard, and a handful of guys I played with in high school and to connect with all the community is beyond words.”
“I connected with guys who I haven’t seen in 20 years,” said Solomon. “We looked at each other and it was like we played together yesterday.”
“Squirrel Hill is a special place. Allderdice is a special place,” added Wedner. “You could feel the pride even in the loss.”
When the clock finally expired Saturday night no pumpkin appeared. The carriage waiting to carry the kids was alumni standing before the steps.
“I’ve got friends in L.A. watching you guys,” yelled one alum to the emerging Dragons.
Kyle Solomon, who played for Allderdice in 1985, donned his old practice jersey — No. 50, the same as Allderdice senior Jordan Rawls. The two took a photo together.
When James Jackson discovered that fans had traveled from around the country, the Allderdice senior paused, then said, “It means a lot; they didn’t have to support us.”
“They lost with dignity,” said Friez. “They were obviously disappointed, but they showed class. They really enjoyed the moment and understood it.”
“It was a hell of a season,” said Jackson. “We did what we had to do, we made history.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.