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Weir Going West
A High School Band and a Very Big Parade

By Tom Tarowsky

Weir High Varsity Band drum majorette Sandy Daugherty and major Tyrone Price marching in the 1960 Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California.

1959 was a good year to live in Weirton. The city was booming as its population approached a peak of 28,201, according to the 1960 census. Weirton Steel was the largest employer and taxpayer in the state, jobs were plentiful, and the city was quite well-to-do as steel towns go.

The nation's economy was recovering from a sharp recession that began in 1958. Car sales were up, pulling the economy along, in spite of what would prove to be the longest strike in steel industry history. Most American steelworks were idle with more than 500,000 steelworkers out on strike. Of major U.S. steelmakers, only Weirton Steel continued to operate throughout the debilitating strike. The thousands of hourly employees at the mill were represented by the Independent Steelworkers Union, as Weirton was not a United Steelworkers shop. Not a paycheck was lost to the "Big Steel" strike in Weirton during the summer of 1959.

Although the Weirton of 1959 and the Weirton of 2010 are as different as can be, some things haven't changed in this Northern Panhandle town. Weirton people are still closely tied to their high schools and their teams. In 1959, as today, fans filled Weirton Municipal Stadium (now Jimmy Carey Stadium) on brisk Friday evenings to watch their Red Riders play opponents from West Virginia, as well as nearby Ohio and Pennsylvania. Unlike today, however, the football games of 1959 were punctuated by waves of smoke and grit from the open hearth and steelworks wrapped around the east side of the stadium.

Gridiron success provided a bond for the people of Weirton. But in the late 1950's, Friday nights at the stadium also brought something extra. Fans who came for the game remained in their seats during halftime and stayed after the game to see and hear the marching band. And what a band it was! The Weir High School Varsity Band boasted 144 members, with three drum majors (including identical twins), plenty of brass, lots of drums, a color guard and the Weir High Dancing Majorettes.

On the evening of August 19, 1959, at its regular meeting in New Cumberland, the Hancock County Board of Education voted to accept a very special offer : an invitation for the Weir High Band to appear at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, on January 1, 1960. This was the first time that a high school band in West Virginia had received and accepted an invitation to this prestigious event, and the occasion swept the entire town in a wave of enthusiasm and community pride as Weirton rallied to support its band.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal