This is the seventh in series of feature stories on the 2015 inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame.
Rick Flora has seen football from every angle.
That’s not a surprise for someone whose love of the game is incomparable.
Flora was a three-year letterwinner for the New Castle High football team that was Section 3 champions and WPIAL co-champions in 1975, his junior year, while he combined to score seven touchdowns on offense and special teams.
His senior season was cut short because of a knee injury suffered in a loss to Beaver Falls. Flora had a receiving touchdown and 102 rushing yards in that game before the injury occurred.
Flora has worked as a PIAA football referee for 27 years and, for three years in the 1990’s, was the Shenango junior high football coach.
It’s his work as a three-sport athlete at New Castle, however, that has him being inducted into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame.
The banquet will be held April 26 at the New Englander banquet facility. The social hour starts at 1:30 p.m., with dinner at 3. Tickets are available at the historical society annex from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays or online at www.lawrencehs.com.
Flora, now 55, also was on the ’Canes baseball and track teams, where he won three varsity letters each. The New Castle baseball team won the section championship in his senior year, while he competed in the 100-, 220- and 880-meter relays on the track team.
One of Flora’s most memorable days on the track came in an unexpected manner, where he didn’t think he’d be running that day.
“I was sitting in the classroom with coach Ron Plano and I was told that there was a track meet that day and the only way we could beat Butler if you win the 100- and 200-meter races,” Flora said. “So they took me out of class, I ran and I won both races. That was a big rivalry back then and we ended up beating them.”
Between all three sports and the competitive fire that Flora had, having it end after his high school tenure may have hurt the most. Yet a unique opportunity, presented by another Lawrence County Hall of Fame inductee, helped Flora get back into the game.
“Being in sports all of those years through high school, then not going to college and being completely out of competitive sports was a shock,” Flora said. “Chuck Cuba approached me to co-referee football. It just sounded so appealing to get back into being around the kids again. I used to coach Pop Warner too, and just getting back into that with the kids. Once I did it the first year, it was just great and kept getting better.”
Being a former player helps Flora put things in perspective when it comes to officiating a game. It also helps that his son, Drue, is on his staff.
Add that together and the senior Flora and his crew have become one of the more reliable staffs in the PIAA.
“It’s nice to be a referee and know what the kids are thinking,” Flora said. “You kind of control the game better because you know how to handle it, you know what they’re thinking and you try to explain it a little more so they understand.
“I’ve got my son on my crew. This will be his third year, I didn’t ref last year but he’s been on my crew for two years. It’s special to have him on there. As a chapter, we’re always trying to get young kids involved because we’re an older crew. I’m 55 and I’m probably one of the younger guys in the chapter. My son changed jobs and I told him to give it a try. He’s smart, he learned it really fast and we ended up having an opening. With him and his buddy Mike Bruno in the back, we’ve been getting a lot of games because of them.”
Another member of the Flora family, Rick’s cousin John, knew that he was a natural when it came to being a referee.
“He has great instincts,” John Flora said. “He had a good knack for the flow of the game, that gives him a good advantage when he refs a game. I know he enjoys doing it, it just came natural to him.”
Flora is hoping to reach the 30-year mark on his officiating tenure before he hangs up his whistle and cleats.
Flora, who retired from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission after 35 years of service, currently lives in Shenango with his wife, Barbara, and has two sons, Drue and David, and a daughter, Cameron.