Teacher searching for classic Bethel Park football helmets to display

{child_byline}Eleanor Bailey{/child_byline}

While cleaning out his attic, Chris Tobias stumbled across two old Bethel Park High School football helmets.

One he had worn his junior year while playing for the Black Hawks in 1987. His cousin, Terry Riddle, had given him the other. An all-conference linebacker, Riddle had donned the head gear from 1980-83.

The heritage of the hardware struck Tobias such that the German teacher is now ensconced in a preservation project. Working with the athletic department, he has initiated the “BP Helmet Project.”

“It occurred to me that each helmet represents an era of Bethel Park sports and that it would be a unique way to document the history of the football program if we could create a display of the helmets that the Hawks have worn through the years,” he said.

So far, Tobias has collected five helmets, spanning the years 1980 to the present. Those seasons represent some of the glory days of BP football history, such as when Shawn Morton tossed three TD passes to Larry Miles to beat North Hills, 33-27, in four overtimes in 1980. That year, too, the Hawks competed for their first WPIAL championship but lost to Mt. Lebanon, 30-14. BP won a WPIAL title in 2008.

Tobias believes his current project is significant. He hopes to eventually document the entire history of BP football to include the 1960s and even earlier years.

“My goal is to create a visual documentation of the history of the Bethel Park High School football program through a permanent exhibit of the helmets its players have worn over the years, and to do it in a way that students, alumni and visitors can appreciate.”

Tobias would appreciate assistance. He is seeking donations from the community so he does not have to use replicas although he is doing some “restoration” on equipment, enough that the “look is accurate” because understandably older helmets naturally show the affects of time.

For example, some of the helmets that Tobias found were missing one or more decals. So he tracked down old labels and applied them as replacements. On the 1980 helmet, he obtained clips from Century Sports because those used to attach the facemask had dry-rotted.

“We really don’t want to restore (the helmets) too much though, because we want them to look as ‘game-worn’ and authentic as possible,” Tobias said.

Tobias is no restoration artist. He has adopted a learn-as-you-go approach.

“It’s not really something you learn how to do,” he said. “You just figure out what needs to be done to make the helmet look as much as possible like it did back in the days when it was worn on the field and then try your best to do it.”

The rest now is up to the community. Tobias is encouraging former players, parents or friends of those who played for the Hawks to check closets for old helmets they may have in storage and contribute them to the project.

“We are missing only two helmets (styles) from 1980 to 2016,” said Tobias as he inspected the helmet he once wore. “They say you can read a player’s schedule by the helmet they wore.”

The helmet Tobias wore tells its own story. As he fingered the scuffmarks, he recalled the quarterback sack he made on the final play of a junior varsity game that secured a win over rival Upper St. Clair.

“That was special to me because it was such an important play and I had family visiting from Michigan there to see it,” he said fondly.

Then there was the upset win, 3-0, against top-ranked North Allegheny.

“It was the homecoming game my senior year,” Tobias noted. “In three years of varsity football, I started just one game. So as a career special teams player it felt good to be involved in the scoring play that got us the victory,” he said of that 50-yard field goal in the rain on a then muddy field as an artificial playing surface had not been installed until the 1990s.

For Tobias, the helmet is not the only special thing about playing football for Bethel Park. The sport shaped his life, formed the person, coach and teacher he had become. His experiences were lessons learned and they helped him “develop self-discipline” and a “strong work ethic.” It taught him how to persevere both mentally and physically when faced with challenging situations.

“More than anything, though, I think it showed me the value of working as part of a team to achieve a common goal and accomplish something of great significance.”

To contribute a helmet, contact Tobias at tobias.christopher@bphawks.org or athletic director Daniel Sloan at sloan.daniel@bphawks.org. Helmets not put on display will be returned to the donors as long as contact information is provided.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!