Tyrone Writer Publishes Two Volume History of Tyrone Football

Teacher and journalist Kerry Naylor used quarantine to tell the tale of the town’s most popular sport

The closures, quarantines, and lockdowns that became familiar during the first year of the pandemic left people with a lot of time on their hands, and for many of them, that time was used for projects. It was a time for painting rooms, building decks, expanding living areas, remodeling kitchens.

Tyrone resident Kerry Naylor embarked on a COVID project of his own, but it didn’t involve two-by-fours, T-squares, or wood screws.

If there is one consistent parallel between the team and the community, it has been their refusal to take no for an answer

— Kerry Naylor

Beginning on March 13, 2020, the day President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, bringing most Americans’ typical way of life to a screeching halt, Naylor began writing a book telling the story of the first 100 years of high school football in Tyrone.

“I was wondering what I would do to pass the two weeks we would be at home in order to stop the spread,” said Naylor, who is an English teacher at Bellwood-Antis High School. “I decided to write this book I had been thinking of, believing, naively, that I could probably get most of it finished by the time we headed back to school near the start of April. It didn’t take long until I realized it was a project that would take much longer than two weeks, so in that way, the extension of the school lockdown turned into a kind of blessing. It was a chance to take something overwhelmingly negative and turn it into a positive.”

Twenty months later, Naylor’s work is finished, and his two-volume book titled The Tyrone Football Story: A Team, a Community, and 100 Years of Defying the Odds, is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.

“It feels great to have this done,” said Naylor. “It’s been a long journey and a lot of hard work. I’ve literally devoted a portion of every day since March 13, 2020 to this project, and I’m really pleased with the finished product.”

The Tyrone Football Story tells the story of the program’s inception in 1921, fewer than 30 years after a man from Tyrone had been killed playing the game of football with a local club team, through the Golden Age of the 1940s, up to the Jon Franco era, when Tyrone became a regional power for nearly two decades. In doing so, Naylor weaves together two threads that have influenced the program to an astonishing degree throughout its century-long existence.

The first is the mentality of the typical Tyroner, which Naylor describes as stubborn by nature. The second is the way that attitude has been reflected in the course of the growth of the community, which many times over the last 100 years has been on the brink of collapse only to rise from the ashes to maintain its cultural identity.

“If there is one consistent parallel between the team and the community, it has been their refusal to take no for an answer,” said Naylor. “The community at large never wanted a football program in the early 20th Century, and there were plenty of times over the next 100 years when it was on life support or left for dead, but each time there was a resurrection born from grittiness and moxie and a refusal to quit.”

The same is true for the town in general, Naylor said, as the exit of industry, the loss of homes due to the construction of the 220 bypass, and the demolition of some of Tyrone’s most cherished buildings have threatened to tear the community apart, but each time the town has come together to withstand the blows and maintain its sense of self.

In all, I conducted 48 interviews and read hundreds of old newspapers trying to piece together a cohesive story that was more than a game-by-game account of each and every season

— Kerry Naylor

“I knew when I started writing that it would be impossible to tell a story spanning 100 years without also including some aspects of the town’s history, though I never set out to write a history book, per se,” Naylor said. “But it became evident in my early research that both the history of the town and the history of its football team were inseparable because they both reflect the same attitude. Whether it’s a game on a Friday night at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field or a battle over removing 150 homes to build a highway, it’s always been tough to tell a Tyroner what to do. And it’s been even tougher telling a Tyroner what he can’t do.”

Through stories and interviews, the book tells the story of some of the most impactful moments from the progression of the town and the team including:

  • The death of Benjamin Rich in 1897, which helped maintain a ban on football in the borough.
  • The Golden Age of the 1940s under Steve Jacobs and the War Years that coincided with it.
  • The career of Slug Drake, Tyrone’s most heavily recruited athlete, in the 1950s.
  • The creation of the Athletic Park and Gray-Veterans Memorial Field.
  • The tragedies of Kathy Shea and Melody Curtis.
  • Turmoil in the schools in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The state championship run of 1999.
  • The exit of John Franco in 2012.

Naylor said he feels the book has appeal for both the average football fan and local historians, as well.

“In all, I conducted 48 interviews and read hundreds of old newspapers trying to piece together a cohesive story that was more than a game-by-game account of each and every season,” he said. “It was a process that at times I thought was beyond me, but a goal is a goal and a plan is a plan, and in the end, I hope I was able to do justice to the stories of the players, the coaches, the community and everyone involved with making Tyrone and Tyrone football something worth preserving.”

Both Volume I (1921-1970; 379 pages) and Volume II (1971-2021) are available in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon.com for $26 each.