As they have for countless football seasons before, signs lined the light posts along the windy, tree-lined stretch of Old Clairton Road leading up to Thomas Jefferson High School every Friday night this fall.
The longstanding tradition of hanging signs to support the Jaguars and pump up the community for Friday night lights dates back decades.
“They go up like the mail: Rain, snow or shine, we’re putting up the signs,” said Joanne Everley, president of the TJ Football Boosters who has been the woman behind the signs for the last several years including this season.
Everley said her understanding of the tradition is that years ago, the TJ Cheerleaders created signs before the football boosters took over at some point. They formed a committee, and as many as 20 people would gather in the high school cafeteria once a week to paint or touch up the signs over the years.
About two years ago, though, the large groups stopped showing up.
Everley, a mom of six, couldn’t let the tradition she took over several years ago die.
“You can’t not have the signs. It’s a Jaguar tradition,” she said. Now, it’s a much smaller operation. She paints the signs in her home. It’s relaxing, she said.
For the last two years, parent John Barrett has helped by hauling the signs in his truck and hanging them on posts from Pleasant Hills Middle School all the way to the high school and around the stadium.
A storage locker for football equipment houses more than 200 signs.
“I have a 9 year old. I have signs that I think are older,” Everley said, with a laugh.
General signs, like “Hustle, Hit, Never Quit,” can be seen on a pole nearly every week during the season. Other signs addressing specific schools the Jaguars play might only make an appearance once a year.
They have fun with the sayings, assigning themes from time to time. A few years ago, when the theme was “menus,” signs featured sayings like, “Titans, it’s what’s for dinner.”
There are some rules: No individual players names are on the signs, except for senior recognition, when they have special posters lining the school entryway.
“It’s always about the team,” Everley said.
TJ senior Dom Serapiglia, 18, a four-year starter on the varsity football team this year, said he has long enjoyed reading the signs.
He remembers back to his youth football days when his dad would drive him around the community and he would see the signs and ask about them.
“I was like, ‘I can’t wait to grow up and play in high school,’” he said.
Things like the signs make Thomas Jefferson and the West Jefferson Hills School District special, said school Board President Brian Fernandes.
“I actually believe that’s something that separates us,” he said. “It’s so much more than football.”
It’s about the community, said Fernandes, who said he always feels a sense of pride during the season when he drives down Old Clairton Road and reads the signs. The signs weave their way through Pleasant Hills and Jefferson Hills, uniting the community, he said.
“We’re very blessed to live in a community that values tradition,” he said.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.