New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Blair Sweet racked up many accolades during his time at Wilmington High.
Two WPIAL football championships, program records, state-wide recognition and national awards.
Now, he's adding another honor to his collection — induction into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame on April 28 at the New Englander.
"I was shocked. I had no idea anything like that was going to happen. I was pleasantly surprised," he said. "To be in a group like that is great."
The Greyhounds football program has produced many top-flight running backs over the years. Statistically, Sweet remains the best. His 4,451 rushing yards are a program record.
"As time passes, you just realize how special some of the achievements were," he said. "It was a total team effort, though. I certainly didn't do it all myself. I am shocked some of the records still standing today, especially since a lot of players play as freshmen now."
Sweet was part of a class that set the tone for Wilmington's district dominance over the past 25 years. It all started in junior high as Sweet's 1985 team captured the Tri-County League championship.
"I think that year we only had 17 players on the team and they almost canceled the team," \035 he said. "We had 17 kids, but we had a lot of quality players. We were able to do some stuff maybe teams couldn't do with more kids."
The next fall, during his sophomore year, Sweet took over as the fullback on the 'Hounds' varsity team.
"The next year, you could tell there was a difference. Two or three guys from the junior high started playing before the end of the year. That class of mine kind of pushed things a little bit," he said. "Junior year, we came out and we were pretty good."
In 1987, Wilmington advanced to its first WPIAL Class A championship game at Three Rivers Stadium. The 'Hounds beat Monaca, 14-7, to claim the title.
"That year was huge. That year also was the first time in 17 years we beat Laurel and that was a big game," Sweet said. "To make the playoffs and win a WPIAL championship was a huge thing for Wilmington. To be able to do that for the school was big."
However, that WPIAL title was the end of the road for that Wilmington squad as the PIAA football tournament did not yet exist.
It did in 1988 and the 'Hounds made it to the state title game. They beat Farrell, 10-7, to defend their WPIAL Class A title at Three Rivers Stadium. It was the program's last WPIAL title as it left District 7 for District 10 in 1994.
"It was big to defend it. It was a huge accomplishment," Sweet said. "The coaches put in a lot of hard work to put us in the right places."
However, Wilmington elected to enter the new PIAA playoffs, but was placed in Class AA.
"I think the PIAA and WPIAL had their differences in enrollment and that's why we were put in Class AA,"\035 Sweet said. "It was all new to us. I don't think we even knew until after the WPIAL championship game that we were going to play in the state tournament. There was never any question we wanted to play. But, the coaches kept us so focused. We weren't looking ahead. The WPIAL championship game was the biggest one as far as we were concerned. Now, everyone is geared up to make it to the state championship game. That wasn't the case back then. The WPIAL championship was the big game. Nobody looked beyond that and nobody really even talked about it."
Nevertheless, the 'Hounds made it to the PIAA title game, but dropped a 26-11 decision to Bethlehem Catholic at Altoona's Mansion Park Stadium.
"I think it was a team we could have hung with. We went into that game with some injuries. I had hurt my foot the game before the WPIAL championship and my foot never really healed," Sweet said. "If we could have matched them up in our prime time, I think we could have beaten them."
Sweet became the seventh player in WPIAL history to eclipse 4,000 yards in a career. He won the Pittsburgh Press Fabulous 22, Post-Gazette Finest 44, the '87 and '88 Dapper Dan Award. He was a USA Today All-Star, a first-team all-state honoree in '87 and '88, including a WPIAL all-district in '87 and '88. He was the '88 Street & Smith top senior to watch in Lawrence County.
"Everything we did was as a team. I got a lot of yards, but a lot of people helped. The coaches put us in the right spot," he said. "We had a lot of great linemen who took a lot of pride in what they were doing. They did a great job.
Sweet participated in track and field at Wilmington as well.
"I did a little bit of everything, whatever the coaches needed me to do," he said. "At one time we set the school record in the 400 relay. We were good at track. I just enjoyed it just to be competitive and keep active."
Sweet, an '89 Wilmington graduate, attended Youngstown State University. After redshirting his first year for the football team, he retired from the game.
"My senior year when I hurt my foot, I never did run right after that. I saw several doctors after I hurt it and got several different opinions," he said. "Football was pretty much done for me. My foot wasn't going to hold up."
However, he takes great pride in setting the bar high for Wilmington's program.
"The way I look back at it, we had a good group of kids and great coaches that started a tradition that I think is still thriving," he said. "The group I played with, some of us have stayed close, even with the coaches. I try not to miss many Wilmington games. I try to go every game. It's amazing what still goes on there. The time that Terry Verrelli and his assistants put in is incredible."\035
Sweet, 43, is Sales Manager at Preston Ford Hyundai in Sharon. He lives in Pulaski.
TOMORROW: Diane Kukich Bucknum