By BILL SULLIVAN
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
LOWELLVILLE -- When Rocco Nero was named superintendent of Lowellville Schools in May, he looked around a brand-new academic complex and saw what it lacked most -- a connection to the past.
Growing up in this picturesque village in the 1950s, Nero often went to Saturday afternoon football games -- games that the Rockets rarely lost.
Over a span of five seasons (1959-63) Lowellville ripped off a 36-game unbeaten streak -- 33 wins and three ties.
"It's the longest in school history and, I'm not so sure if it's not the longest in Mahoning County history," Nero said.
Bridge to past
As a way of establishing a bridge to the past, many of the players from those teams will be honored during the final football game of the season Friday night.
A dinner to recognize "The Streak" is set in the school cafeteria at 4:30 p.m. At halftime of the game against Toronto, 37 players and two coaches will be introduced.
Some will be surprised to see the football field now has lights, refurbished bleachers and is ringed by an all-weather track.
Those will serve as a physical reminder that things have been updated in the village, but past accomplishments won't be soon forgotten.
"My childhood was great and what do I remember best about my childhood," he asked. "Saturday afternoons. You come to the ball games on Saturday afternoons and we never lost. There was so much pride in the community."
Thus, he made it a priority to let this part of the school's history serve as a motivation for the current students.
"I thought it would be a nice thing; I think it would help the younger kids see what a great tradition we have here and we want to continue to have."
Nero tested his memory of watching the games with his family and friends four decades ago but some features of the teams came back vividly.
"They had great defenses, they gave up very few points," he said.
The 1960 Lowellville team outscored eight opponents 210-16, for example.
"They had some talent, you don't win that many games without talent," Nero added.
Unfortunately, the coach of those teams, John Santillo, will not be able to attend. He's at Mississippi State, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his college graduation.
But Nero's plans go beyond the football field -- he's an educator first and supporter of athletics second.
"My belief is that it's the ninth period of the day. There's a lot of learning that goes on there," he said.
"Obviously these guys learned a lot from their athletic careers as well as their academic careers because they're very successful in life."