Mike Burke

Mike Burke

prin·ci·ple

noun

1. a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior ...

For every student at Fort Hill High School from 1970 through 1986 and beyond, Robert E. Scarcelli was our principal as well as our principle.

This tall, dark, handsome and pleasant man with the United States Navy tattoos bursting from his forearms — forearms I one day found to be quite powerful — was the leader of our school, and for all intents and purposes, the leader of our community.

Born in Eckhart Mines and a graduate of Beall High School, Mr. Scarcelli lived in the Fort Hill neighborhood when he was the principal just as Fort Hill principals Mr. Edgar Reynolds, Dr. Wayne Hill and Mr. Victor Heisey had before him.

Each school in Allegany County had its own diversity and its own personality and its own manner of growth, which is what made each school so special and its very own.

We loved Mr. Scarcelli, though we never told him that; but he knew, because he was our principal, whether it was in or out of school. He had his eyes on us — fall, winter, spring and summer. We were representing Fort Hill High School, after all, whether we were inside or outside of the building, and we were made aware that we would represent our school with the utmost dignity and respect.

Which is precisely why we viewed Bob Hutcheson to be Public Enemy No. 1 (not really) — everything Mr. Scarcelli was and meant to Fort Hill, Mr. Hutcheson was and meant to Allegany High School; he was a great principal as well. They were in charge of their schools. They were leaders in a position that demands leadership. There were no agendas.

They lived in the neighborhoods and were part of the community and the spirits of the schools. And anybody who says community doesn’t matter in a community school shouldn’t be in education. 

We hated Allegany and Allegany hated us. But we loved Allegany and Allegany loved us because we were different but we were in it together. That’s a fact.

We were different, but we were expected and allowed to be different — even encouraged to be different. But we were in it together.

You never went to an Allegany High event and did not see Bob Hutcheson and you never went to a Fort Hill High event and did not see Bob Scarcelli. It never happened. They both had their school’s best interest at heart — not the interests of Washington Street, which, in those days, is how Washington Street wanted it.

Mr. Scarcelli supported the teachers and the students at Fort Hill. He took ownership and was proud to own it. He wasn’t afraid to discipline us and he had his own way of discipline. We didn’t enjoy it, but we understood it was necessary and that we had earned it. It was never pleasant, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Yet like this man himself, it was always fair and just.

The only fight I ever got into in 12 years of school I started and Mr. Scarcelli broke up, grabbing Jeff Kreiger and me by each nape and lifting us from the entrance of the gym straight to the front bench in the main office where he deposited us. Once he returned from his office to deal with us, I knew he knew Jeff had started the fight because Jeff was as ornery (in a good way) as any South End kid could be.

So before Mr. Scarcelli could say a word I said, “I started it.” Frustrated even more by this nonsense, Mr. Scarcelli then snapped to me, “Go to the gym. Coach Lattimer will take care of you ... Kreiger, go to your next class.” To which Kreiger said, “I’d rather go with him.”

“Why?” Mr. Scarcelli said, snapping again, “You want to continue this?”

“No,” Jeff said. “My next class is Mrs. Burke ...” To which all three of us laughed with Mr. Scarcelli saying, “I’ll check in on you, son, to make sure you’re safe.”

(Months later once we had buried the hatchet and made up, Jeff told me Mom never said a word to him about the fight and always treated him fairly. You, see, my mother loved ornery South End kids as well.)

Mr. Scarcelli died peacefully on June 2. The last time I saw him was in October 2017 when he and Mrs. Scarcelli came back to town for my mother’s funeral. They had come to pay their respects for my mother, who was one of Mr. Scarcelli’s teachers as well as his friend and neighbor. And he came back to check on my brother Kevin and on me. And once more, in a blink of an eye, he had taken command of the room to offer us his condolences, his support, his care and, always, his leadership.

Mr. Scarcelli was, after all, over 40 years later, still our principal ... And I can assure you, he always will be.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeCTN

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