Crew helps in keeping tradition on the ball

Tradition began with a
12-inch disco ball.



YOUNGSTOWN — Each year in late December, four street department employees trudge to the top of city hall annex on Front Street.

They piece together a ball made of iron, fill it with lights and hoist it up a flagpole — just as a test.

For eight years now, a small group of New Years revelers have brought about a mini-Times Square in the streets of downtown. On Jan. 31, the group awaits the sound of a countdown and launches “First Night Ball” on its decent into the new year.

It’s a New Year’s Eve tradition — Youngstown style.

“What we do is light this thing up. We crank this thing up and we put it at the top of the pole around 11 o’clock,” said Mickey Koziorynsky, the mechanic supervisor for the city’s street department.

Youngstown, from as early as the mid-1970s, has hosted a ball drop, early on from the windows of the Realty Building and later from a pole in Central Square, according to Claire Maluso, Federal Plaza director.

Since First Night Youngstown took over in 2000, Koziorynsky, retired street department employee Al Nagy and mechanic James Pierce have been keepers of the ball. Blacksmith John Miller joined the group a few years ago.

It was former city council member John Swierz who approached Koziorynsky with the idea of bringing a taste of Times Square to the annual, alcohol-free celebration.

“He called us one day — I think it was New Year’s afternoon — and said, ‘Can you guys do it?’” said Koziorynsky. “But we did it.”

Now, what began with a 12-inch disco ball has taken on a life of its own.

Friday, the team spent its afternoon dragging the iron skeleton of the ball — which has grown to 5 feet in diameter — to the rooftop. Students at Choffin Career Center developed the framework as a class project, said Koziorynsky.

The orb is filled with Christmas lights and covered with sequined material.

“At night, the whole ball will be lit up,” he said.

Improvised though it may be, the First Night Ball isn’t too far removed from the original sphere dropped over the crowds of Manhattan in 1904.

The earliest Times Square model was constructed of iron and wood and adorned with 100 25-watt light bulbs. It, as well, was 5 feet in diameter.

The tradition of dropping a ball to signal the passing of time predates even the Times Square display.

Timekeepers in Greenwich, England, began using a time ball in 1833. The ball would be lowered on a flagpole at 1 p.m. to signal to passing sailors to reset their navigation devices, according to the Times Square Alliance.

Though Youngstown’s downtown time-ball tradition is becoming more technical, the journey hasn’t been without its misadventures. One year, a windstorm knocked out the lights, just before the main event, said Koziorynsky.

“I finally got it back together at five [minutes] till 12.”

But overall, its been a enjoyable ride, say the team. They will return with their families for an up-close view of the action New Year’s Eve.

“It’s been fun every year and we like doing it,” said Koziorynsky. “It gets bigger and bigger every year.”

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