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Armstrong River Hawks make their debut

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Louis B. Ruediger | Total Trib Media
The Armstrong River Hawks take the field for the first time ever against Holidaysburg in Kittanning. Friday, Sept 4, 2015.
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Louis B. Ruediger | Total Trib Media
Armstrong teacher Pam Hobaugh shows off a reserved ticket for the first River Hawks football game against Hollidaysburg. Friday Sept 4, 2015.
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Louis B. Ruediger | Total Trib Media
Gerald Bowser, a 1984 graduate of Kittanning High School, buys a River Hawks hat and T-shirt from Becky Weitzel during the Armstrong River Hawks first game. Friday Sept 4, 2015.

Bob Lattanzio hasn’t missed a Kittanning Wildcats football game in 52 years, and he plans to keep the streak alive by not missing a single Armstrong River Hawks game.

“The whole team is going to be great, and this should be a great opener for them — if the weather holds,” Lattanzio said before the game. Ironically, the song being played over the stadium’s speakers was AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

The team’s first game ever, scheduled for 7 p.m., was delayed by 30 minutes because storms rolled through the area. During the delay, Lattanzio’s wife, Kate, proudly showed off her orange-and-blue painted nails, eager to cheer on the River Hawks.

“I really want to see the adults and everybody in this area come together and support this team,” she said. “Everybody’s ready for it.”

Bob is confident the merger — which marks the second time Ford City and Kittanning high schools have merged — will be a success both on and off the gridiron. The last was in 1990, when the two schools formed Armstrong Central High School. The merger lasted three years.

“When I was a senior in high school, they talked about it, and it’s come up several times after that. But now we’re merged as one community,” he said. “I think this time, the whole thing is going to work.”

Despite the rain, thunder and lightning — which delayed the game two more times — about three-quarters of David “Red” Ullom Field in Kittanning was full for the River Hawks’ debut.

The game was only at halftime at 11 p.m. The River Hawks were up 20-0 over the Hollidaysburg Tigers and eventually won 33-14.

The field had lost its Kittanning High red-and-white color scheme, replaced by the vibrant blue-and-orange River Hawks colors and logos.

The majority of the fans in the stadium were decked out in River Hawks gear — not a single Kittanning Wildcats or Ford City Sabers shirt or hat could be seen.

Although he graduated from the first class at Armstrong Central High School, Kittanning resident David Formaini attended Ford City High School before the merger in 1990.

Formaini wore a blue River Hawks shirt, and he had no problem not wearing Ford City or Kittanning gear.

“This is a great start because a lot of people are showing their support,” Formaini said. “I think this whole thing will work well because the kids and communities are ready for it.”

The crowd was vocal through the majority of the first quarter and erupted when River Hawks’ running back Zane Dudek scored the team’s first-ever touchdown.

The band robustly played the school’s new fight song, “Fight On, River Hawks.” Afterward, its members smiled at one another, exchanging high fives and laughs.

“Ford City and Kittanning were never really rivals in my opinion, outside of football,” said Madison Strotman, a sophomore in the River Hawks marching band. “It’s sad to see the two schools go. But to me, all of this just amounts to happiness. We are united.”

Josh Shaner, who will be an eighth-grader at Armstrong Junior-Senior High, cheered loudly for the team while wearing his blue junior high football jersey as he watched from near the northern end zone sideline.

Watching the team gave him a real sense of pride for his new school. He’s confident the River Hawks will have many victories in the team’s inaugural year.

“This team is really coming together as a family, and you can really see how they’re working and pushing each other,” he said. “I think everyone is going to have a great year.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or [email protected].

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