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All in the Family

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And then there was one. Fall 2015 marked the first chapter for Armstrong High School. The new school is the merger of Ford City and Kittanning high schools, which were only five miles away from each other.

Not only did the students merge in the classroom but on the field as well, wearing new colors. The Armstrong River Hawks represent blue and orange. Ford City was purple and gold while Kittanning was red and white.

The school district had a vote on the new mascot, but with a twist. The board decided that the student body should take control of their new mascot.

The students ultimately turned the Ford City Sabers and the Kittanning Wildcats into the Armstrong River Hawks, a reference to the new high school’s location overlooking the Alleghany River.

The two schools do have one thing in common: head football coach Frank Fabian, a 1997 Ford City graduate and coach at Kittanning since 2012.

Fabian was aware of the strange environment for many of his players, so building relationships before the games started was important in his eyes.

“In the first couple weeks, the Ford City kids were with the Ford City kids and the Kittanning kids had their group of friends,” recalled Fabian. “Now I don’t even notice anymore.”

Fabian started early in the year to make sure that any hard feelings were put aside. In January—while the players were still at separate schools—he started his offseason weight-lifting program, but made a point to go to Ford City and work with the athletes there so he could build a relationship and get to know the kids.

The bonding didn’t happen right away, of course. Fabian took the new Armstrong team to a few summer camps, hoping to let the kids build a bond away from the schools while staying together overnight.

The big event was a team camp at Juniata College where they spent the weekend for a 7-on-7 tournament and lineman challenge.

Fabian and his staff paired the teammates up in a quad with a mix of kids from both former schools.

“We were all around each other for 72 hours and really had an opportunity to get to know everyone and each other,” Fabian explained. “It turned out great and in the end everyone bonded.”

Armstrong also did an overnight summer camp at Gettysburg College and by that point, the kids were finally functioning as a single unit.

The River Hawks won their first-ever game, defeating Hollidaysburg, and emerged from a 1-3 midseason stretch to close the year with a four-game winning streak, earning a spot in the WPIAL playoffs.

“It was instrumental for us to do the camps for getting the kids together and building the relationship needed on the field,” said Fabian. “Now, we’re one big family.”

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