The first high school game ever for Ligonier was played on November 17, 1900 against the Latrobe Juniors, a club team consisting of high school age players. The game was played at Latrobe and ended in a 0 - 0 tie. In 1900, Ligonier High School was a two year course and was held in the Library Room, a small building next to the red brick Ligonier Public School. Both buildings were located on the current site of the municipal parking lot on North Market Street. The football team was called the Zebra's. Its colors were Blue and White, which would remain the school colors until 1969. Ligonier played its home games on Richard Field, north of Ligonier Borough. There was no coach for this team and Ligonier teams of this era probably included players not in high school, though most were still likely of high school age.
The 100th game in school history was played on November 29, 1923 against arch-rival Derry Borough. The game was played on Thanksgiving Day and was also a 0 - 0 tie. By this point Ligonier High School was a four-year course held on the third floor of the yellow brick Ligonier Public School. This school had replaced the red brick school at the same location. It was later known as the Dickinson Building and was torn down in 1971. The coach of the 1923 team was Frank Jack, one of six members of the high school faculty. The team's nickname was the Tigers. Home games were played on the athletic field just south of town across the bridge over the Loyalhanna Creek directly to the east of the road now known as Route 711. This field had no stands and would remain Ligonier's home field through the 1946 season.
Ligonier played its 200th game on September 15, 1934 against Mount Pleasant Borough, also known as Ramsay. The contest was played at Mount Pleasant, which won the game 13 - 0. Biology, health, and algebra teacher Henry Benninghoff was just beginning his first of four seasons as Ligonier head coach. The high school was in its fourth school year at the Ligonier High School building on Church Street, across from the Ligonier Public School, which now taught grades one through eight only. The high school building was later called the Ramsey Building and still exists, though modified, as the Ligonier Valley YMCA. By 1934, the team's nickname was the Mountaineers, originally coined by rival Latrobe fans and meant to be taken derogatorily. But Ligonier embraced the name, feeling it represented the hard-working, proud, and sometimes stubborn nature of the school and community.
Game 300 was the first game of the 1945 season, played on September 22. It was a home contest against Dale Borough, near Johnstown. The Mountaineers won the game 21 - 0. Dale Borough is now part of the Ferndale school district. Dale was one of the rare Ligonier opponents of this era that was not in the WPIAL. Ligonier had joined the WPIAL in 1927 and had competed in Class B in both football and basketball for many years by 1945. The head coach in 1945 was Paul Abele, who later became a legend as a successful basketball coach at Johnstown High School. Ligonier's scheduled first game this year, against Bell Township, was postponed due to a polio outbreak. The Ligonier backfield of the 1945 team, which finished the season with a 6 - 2 - 1 record, consisted of Bob Craig, Lauf Leonard, Nickie Malkoch, and Bob Wolford.
The Mountaineers played their 400th game on September 28, 1956. The opponent was Jenner-Boswell-Jennerstown, a jointure often simply called J-B-J, or just Boswell, where the high school was located. In 1970 J-B-J and Forbes merged to form North Star. Ligonier won this game 25 - 12, at Boswell. The coach of this Mountaineer team was Richard Headrick, who later coached at Blairsville and taught at Laurel Valley. In 1956, Ligonier was beginning the third year of the jointure between Ligonier Borough, Ligonier Township, and Cook Township. The high school, still located on Church Street, was now called Ligonier Valley Joint Senior High School and housed only grades ten through twelve. The football team was now competing in Class A of the WPIAL for the second season. Ligonier played Laurel Valley for the first time in 1956. 1956 was also the first year for permanent lights at Ligonier' home field. The Mountaineers had moved to their new field on Fairfield Street in 1947 and it was not yet given a name. In 1960, the field would be named for long-time athletic booster, Barney Weller. Most home games from 1956 through 1958 were played on Thursday evenings.
Ligonier's 500th game was against a tough, long-time rival, the Trafford Tomahawks. The game was played at Trafford on October 21, 1967. The Tomahawks won 13 - 0, but the Mountaineers still had a great season, finishing 7 - 2 under head coach Gene Seiling. Seiling was in the first year of his second stint as Ligonier coach. The Mounties, still playing in the WPIAL, finished second in the Alle-Fay-West Conference, behind Trafford. In addition, after four years back in Class B, Ligonier was again in Class A in 1967. The high school itself was now in the Carey Building (the current high school.) The Ligonier jointure had become a union/merger in 1961 and then, in 1966, Ligonier Valley and Laurel Valley merged as well - as school districts, but not as high schools. Ligonier High was now normally called the Ligonier Valley Senior High School. Colors were still Blue and White, but would change to Red and Black in 1969, as would the football program's affiliation with the WPIAL change in 1969 as well.
The Mounties faced Johnstown Vo-Tech in game 600 on October 13, 1978. Ligonier dropped the game 13 - 8. This was the first game ever between Ligonier and Johnstown Vo-Tech. The Mountaineers were coached by Ang Sembiante, who also taught at Laurel Valley. By 1978, Ligonier was in its tenth year in the Mountain Conference and seventh year in the Western Conference. For football, the WPIAL was a thing of the past. The Class of 1979, which provided the seniors for this 600th game, was the largest class ever to graduate from Ligonier, at 224 strong. The Mounties were nearing the end of a very good decade for football, the prime stretch of which was 1974 to 1976, when Ligonier posted a 24 - 4 mark under head coach Jerry Blank.
Ligonier matched up with Bishop McCort for its 700th game on October 21, 1988 at Johnstown. The Crushers prevailed 19 - 0. Coach J. D. Jones was in his eighth year of service for the Mounties and would end his Ligonier career after 11 seasons in 1991. The Mountaineers were in their last year with the Mountain Conference in 1988, as well as in their last year with the Greater Nine Conference, which had been formed in 1983 as a sub-group of the Mountain Conference. The 80's were another good decade for Ligonier, which had gone 45 - 5 - 1 from 1981 to 1985, capturing two Mountain Conference championships and participating in the championship game of the inaugural District 6 playoffs in 1985. The Mounties lost to Forest Hills for the Class AAA crown. 1985 was the only year Ligonier was ever classified AAA.
Game 800 was another match up with Bishop McCort, played at Weller Field on September 24, 1999. The Mounties lost, 43 - 19. This was the last game Ligonier played against Bishop McCort (as of 2009.) 1999 was also the 11th and last season for the Mounties' participation in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference. Ligonier had a tough go of it in the LHAC in the 1990's. The Mounties were Class AA the entire decade. 1999 was the first season for a new head coach, high school principal Ronald Baldonieri. This marked the third time in Ligonier history that the sitting principal also served as coach. The high school, now called Ligonier Valley High School, had dropped the "Senior" part of its name when ninth graders enrolled in the Carey Building for the first time in the 1992-93 school year. A major addition, including the school's first auditorium, was added to the high school in 1998. By the 1990's, the nickname, "Mountaineers," had given way almost completely to the shortened, "Mounties."
The 900th game for Ligonier was played on October 30, 2009 at home against Northern Cambria. The Mounties came away with a 26 - 7 victory which clinched Ligonier's third playoff appearance in four years. In addition, with this game, the Colts moved into a tie for eighth place on the list of teams that the Mounties have played the most through they years. Northern Cambria, a former LHAC member like Ligonier, was a charter member of the Heritage Conference in 2000, as were both Ligonier Valley and Laurel Valley. With the new decade and new conference, the football fortunes of the Mounties improved dramatically. Ligonier has been to the playoffs four times since 2000. The team has been led by high school teacher Roger Beitel, who took over in 2004, and is now the third longest serving Mountie coach ever. Ligonier started and ended the 2000's in Class AA, with a four year stint at Class A in between. The 2007 team was Heritage Conference champion and was only the second Mountie team ever to end the regular season with no defeats and no ties.
All other things being equal, Ligonier should play its 1,000th game absolutely no later than the 2020 season. Hopefully, the milestone will be reached sooner than that, with many playoff appearances in the 2010's for the Mounties. Ligonier has built a firm winning tradition in the 2000's, which shows no sign of abating. Another team with a strong winning tradition is the Laurel Valley Rams, which, with Ligonier Valley, is part of the Ligonier Valley School District. If the high schools merge, as has been discussed and planned on and off for over 40 years, what will a new team be called? Will the records of the current teams end and the records of the new team begin? Or will the teams continue separately, as respectful rivals? Only time will tell. Either way, it seems certain that the tradition of hard work and dedication that exists for all of the football being played between the Chestnut Ridge and Laurel Mountain will continue as long as the game is played.
- Doug Kurtz, October 31, 2009
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