Note – This article was published in the Mon Valley Independent newspaper on November 24, 2017. Much thanks to the Sports Editor Jeremy Sellew
Few men can be called “The Founder” of something. You have to be around at the beginning of it, and it has to be of sufficient importance and longevity that people care enough to remember. One such man is Dick Wright. Mr. Wright, a long-time resident of Monongahela, was instrumental in starting the Ringgold ice hockey team in 1973. At the time, high school hockey in the Pittsburgh area was in its infancy. In 1972, a few teams formed the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League (WPIHL) which played mainly at the now gone rink in Monroeville Mall, and the similarly defunct Alpine rink along the Parkway in Wilkinsburg. A year later, they were joined by a new league, the South Pittsburgh Interscholastic Hockey League (SPIHL) that played at the Rostraver Ice Gardens. The teams included Baldwin, Bethel Park, South Park, South Side, Carrick, South Allegheny, West Mifflin South, Clairton, and Ringgold. How this league came into being is an interesting story. The fact that Ringgold Ice Hockey continues 45 years later is a testament to the people who helped found the team, especially, Dick Wright.
In 1973, I was a player in the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League (PAHL) Bantam (13-14 year old) Division, and a ninth-grade student at Finley Junior High School. I played at the Rostraver Ice Garden in on Rt. 51. Luckily, my mom worked there, so I spent a lot of time skating for free. One evening after practice, my dad, Dick Wright, was approached by some of the other dads who were meeting in the back room to discuss the formation of a high school league. The schools that were represented each had several players in the PAHL. The other dads asked if Ringgold would be interested in fielding a team. At the time, we had maybe five players in the PAHL. They informed my dad that they were taking deposits of $100 to secure a spot for each school. He just happened to have the cash on him and counted out the money. The Ringgold Ice Hockey team was formed.
Once we had a team, we had to find out if we had any players. Mr. Wright called meetings for all interested players at Monongahela and Donora High Schools, along with Finley and Carrol Junior High Schools. The result was about 14 players ranging from ninth-grader Don Affinito, to senior captain Dave Chernuta. Most of the players had honed their skills on frozen ponds. Mr. Wright then tackled the pressing issues of who would coach the team, and how we would pay for ice time and uniforms. Charleroi resident, Andy Barbe was chosen as the first coach of Ringgold. Mr. Barbe was a Canadian who had a distinguished career with the AHL Pittsburgh Hornets, and spent time in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs. So we had a team and a coach. The uniforms were patterned after the Buffalo Sabres whose colors were blue and gold. A local artist silk-screened a ram which was stitched onto the jersey. The players stood on street corners in Monongahela and Donora collecting money in coffee cans. Luckily, Mr. Wright was a member of the Ringgold School Board, and was able to secure some funding for the team. Before long, Ringgold was ready to take the ice.
The team wasn’t great that first year. Luckily, we had Tracy Campbell in goal who kept us in a lot of games. Not surprisingly, the teams with the most PAHL players, Baldwin, Bethel Park and South Park, had the most success, but Ringgold placed fourth. The next two years saw us hover in the middle of the pack. Jeff Lynn captained the team in its second season, and I was privileged to captain the team in the third season. As I moved on to play at Penn State, my brother, Scott Wright, began a five-year domination of Pittsburgh high school hockey ending with an 80-goal season in 1980-81 and a trip to the state playoffs. Since then, the team’s fortunes have gone up and down, but it has always answered the bell. It is one of the few high school hockey programs that started in the 1970s, and is still operating today. Along with Scott Wright, other great players included Tim Parsons, Tom Parent, Chuck Rose, Dave Lewis, Dan Drnach, Rico Day, and Dan Tonini.
As I approach my 60th birthday, I count being a founding member of the Ringgold Hockey Team as one of my proudest accomplishments. I estimate about 400 young men and a few women have donned the blue and gold over the years. The experience has helped define who we are. These players have one man to thank, Dick Wright. I’m not sure what possessed him to start the team, but I’m glad he did. I still play in an adult league in Delmont each week. Sometimes I meet equally ancient players on other teams and we talk about our high school days. Most of the teams they played on are now history, but not mine. When I go to a Penguins game at PPG Paints Arena, I look at the framed jerseys of the high school teams, and I feel pride when I see the Ringgold Rams represented there. And I remember the man who made it happen, Dick Wright.
Day-Tripping with Rick
Ringgold High School Defenseman, 1973-76