Curtis H. "Hank" Barnette (left), the chairman emeritus of Bethlehem Steel Corporation and Shawn Daignault. (Contributed photo / Susan Vitez)
Shawn Daignault lives in Bethlehem and his children are Bethlehem Area School District students. It’s one of the reasons he wanted to become the Hurricanes football coach after a lengthy career coaching college football and most recently serving as Northampton’s defensive coordinator.
“To me, it’s important to have a connection to the community and teach the kids about their place in it,” Daignault said. “I want to let my kids know that they’re a small part of a bigger picture. When you’re 16 and a high school football player, sometimes you think the world revolves around you. I want these guys to know that that not’s necessarily the case. They need to make a bigger impact.”
That’s why a few weeks ago, Daignault and about 30 of his players made a trip over to the Bethlehem Steel Workers Memorial at the south end of the Fahy Bridge. They continued the Liberty football tradition of cleaning up the memorial and took time to remember the blue-collar mentality and toughness that made Bethlehem Steel one of the most respected companies in the world.
“When you talk about the City of Bethlehem and its history, you start with the Steel,” Daignault said. “I knew about Bethlehem Steel before I knew about Liberty football. I had a minor in history as a college student and have a masters degree in U.S. history and did a lot of industrial revolution research in my masters program. I knew a ton about the Steel, so I wanted us to be involved.”
Daignault wants his Hurricanes to be as involved in as many community activities, but the Steelworkers Memorial cleanup was a great place to start.
“It was a great event,” said senior quarterback Peyton Carson. “Everyone came out to clean up the area and we learned a lot about what it’s all about. We dug up the dirt around the memorial, we picked up the trash. It was just a great experience and an opportunity to give back to the community and learn about the Bethlehem Steel and that part of the city.”
Curtis H. “Hank” Barnette, chairman emeritus of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, stopped by to meet the players and coaches and offer his support.
Joe Mayer, a volunteer with the Liberty athletic program and a retired Steelworker, helped make the connection between the football team and memorial 10 years ago.
“I was at a Steelworkers Archives membership meeting and they were several complaints made about the condition of the Steelworkers Memorial Park,” Mayer said. “To Steelworkers, this isn’t a city park. This is a memorial to the 650 people that got killed at the Bethlehem plant. People were upset and I made the suggestion that the football team should come over and clean it up for community service.”
Mayer took his proposal to the administration and then head coach Dave Brown and “everyone embraced it.”
“It’s great for the kids to know their heritage, the history of the city,” Mayer, who is now the president of the Steelworkers Archives. “Every year we want them there. Every year, the kids run out with a Bethlehem Steel flag and it doesn’t get any better than that. We’re one.”
Mayer said the Steelworkers Archives want is to continue the legacy of the men and women who worked at Bethlehem Steel.
“It was a way of life,” he said. “But it’s going to be gone forever as so many people who worked there are dying off. We do a lot of tours every Saturday and Sunday mornings and oral histories of the place. It’s a great thing.”
Daignault is trying to do great things with Liberty football after going 0-6 in the abbreviated, pandemic-plagued 2020 season.
He has assembled a star-studded coaching staff with players who come from a variety of places and different generations.
The staff includes Brown, Frank Lane, Joe Bottiglieri, Tevrin Brandon, Levi Brown, Mike Kane, Chad Gruver, Joe Wooten, and Anthony Orlando.
“I couldn’t be happier with the staff,” Daignault said.
He is also happy with the level of enthusiasm his kids have exhibited during the summer workouts and the number of kids. Counting freshmen, Liberty has approximately 140 kids in the program.
“We have a lot of kids, but we also have a large staff,” Daignault said. “We’re inching our way and we had a lot of things to learn and not just football stuff, but things like discipline and accountability. As I have said to a lot of people I’m impressed with the raw materials. We just have to mold them into something.”
Carson said he’s really looking forward to the season.
“I think a lot of people are going to be surprised,” he said. “There’s a lot to look forward to.”
Keith Groller can be reached at 610-820-6740 or at [email protected]