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Andrew Erby, Steel-High fans reflect on what state championship means for community during parade

Patriot-News - 12/7/2023

STEELTON – Just off of Route 230 is the 1.9-square mile spec on the map known as the Borough of Steelton. A little place often tucked in the shadow of Pennsylvania’s concrete jungle and state capital of Harrisburg.

On Thursday, there was arguably more life packed into that space than any other day in a calendar year. Car horns blaring, intertwining with the crack of fireworks while troves of blue sweaters and hats dotted the streets between Steel-High’s school district, Primrose Ave. and War Veterans Memorial Field.

That’s because the Steel-High football team was welcomed back with open arms, a parade in the Rollers’ honor after defeating WPIAL champion Fort Cherry, 42-8 in the PIAA Class 1A Championship at Cumberland Valley’s Chapman Field.

The win was the second straight state title for Steel-High, the third in the last four years, the fifth PIAA banner in program history and the 11th state championship overall since the football team was established back in 1894. That being said, the feeling hasn’t gotten old for Rollers faithful.

“It means a lot to everybody. Everybody loves the Rollers,” said Steelton resident Amanda Robinson, who has grandkids within Steel-High’s school district. “Rollers, Rollers, Rollers. Trust me.”

This isn’t your average victory parade though, despite it being a regular occurrence in recent years. While it might sound cliche to say football means more for the Steelton community, this time it isn’t so much of the same trope. For so many, football is Steelton.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the per capita income for Steelton is $24,739. That figure is well below Pennsylvania’s average of $37,725.

Despite the economic disadvantage, Steel-High has produced its weight in gold on the gridiron.

“It’s a special town, special community. Question is, how does Steelton always get ready for championships? I think it’s, they’re born and raised in it, they want to be Rollers,” Steel-High coach Andrew Erby Sr. said. “The importance of the star on the helmet, it’s extremely important to the community and we have that old-school fight in us where we’ll come out, fight and claw, make no excuses and the expectation is to win.”

Peel back the layers further and one can find the symbolism of the royal blue Rollers uniforms, mirroring the blue-collar foundation of a town that’s home to a near derelict former Bethlehem Steel Plant.

It also captures the blue-collar work ethic of having to grind so hard to contend with the rest of the state in all facets of life, but particularly on the football field.

“It’s crazy every year. I mean, it’s just a single-A school. They manage to churn out champions and it’s just that small-town grit, we come from an old steel mill town,” Steelton native Lori Diebler said. “I mean, it’s just crazy how they manage to have the heart that they have.”

Diebler has seen that heart firsthand. She saw it when her late cousin, Rob Diebler, coached Steel-High to its first PIAA Championship in 2007 before the Rollers repeated the following year.

By now, at 835 wins over the course of the football program’s history, Steel-High is widely known as “Titletown.” Rollers football is a stamp of perseverance, a microcosm of Steelton’s hope and success. Something tangible that the entire community hones in on, because Rollers football is bigger than wins and losses for a community that needs it.

To that end, there’s a responsibility for every player who suits up on game day, every coach on staff and the entire program as a whole. Under the spotlight of an entire community that rallies behind it, the little-program-that-could often finds ways to deliver. Certainly, it delivered on Thursday.

“Just being a part of a rich Rollers tradition has been amazing. It’s up to us and our team to uphold that rich tradition,” Erby Sr. said. “Today is just an example of respecting those who played before you and that star is very special and very important. So many families and so many people are committed to the success of this program. Just amazing stories and amazing people. It’s driven by the star.”

This time felt a little heavier. Steel-High gave Navy commit Alex Erby – Pennsylvania’s all-time passer – a sendoff in style. The Rollers graduated a decorated class of 13 seniors on roster who accounted for four District 3 titles and three PIAA banners.

Walking off Chapman Field for the last time were players who took the mantle of responsibility for an entire community. A senior class that did everything they could to give Steelton a four-year run like no other.

“We called it, ‘The final battle with no return.’ It was kind of our goal to leave it all on this line with these kids who played for four years,” Erby Sr. said. “They were just a committed group, gave everything they had and their mindset was, ‘We’re going to leave it all at Cumberland Valley.’”

And when they returned to Steelton, the Rollers came back to much more.

– Follow Evan Wheaton on X/Twitter @EvanWheaton

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