July 1959 500,000 steel workers in southwestern Pennsylvania walked off the job in a contract dispute. They expected a quick end to the strike like they had seen in previous work stoppages but as the summer turned to fall and the men were still idle and the one bright spot was a local high school football team on the verge of setting a national record.
The Braddock High Tigers had won 46 consecutive games including five undefeated seasons and as the 6th season opened the team had a chance to notch more consecutive wins than any high school football team in history.
“With workers on strike High School football was the center of life in the Mon Valley,” said Striking Gridiron author Greg Nichols. “It was a stage for this phenomenal team.”
The book chronicles that season and sets it against the changing industrial landscape in an area of the country that at the time was a source of national pride.
“Sports in general have an amazing way of bringing communities together but I think football is uniquely suited to the culture of these working class towns,” Nichols said. “It’s a gritty place and football is a gritty sport where heroism often means a busted nose or a broken arm.”
Nichols said he found team members and coach Chuck Klausing to get their first-person narrative in an effort to write a book “that reads more like a novel.”
While he researched the book Nichols found that not only was it a story of one team, a community down on its luck being pulled together and a changing industry, but also a story about race in the 50’s and 60’s.
“They endure quite a bit of racism, which… Klausing enabled them to overcome,” said Nichols of a time when most teams in the valley only carried a few black players who were too good to be ignored but never fully integrated them into the team.