Soon, when drivers and pedestrians enter Johnstown’s Hornerstown neighborhood, they will make the trip by crossing over the Carlton Lee Haselrig Bridge.
On Wednesday, City Council voted unanimously to rename the city-owned Hickory Street Bridge in honor of Haselrig, a Greater Johnstown High School graduate, six-time individual national wrestling champion at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and former Pro Bowl offensive lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who died this summer at 54.
His widow, Michelle Haselrig, said she and her children are “very humbled” and “blessed and thankful” for the tribute and the outpouring of love they have received in recent months.
“I know he’s looking down on us right now and smiling,” she said.
“He was a man that didn’t like to be recognized or be in the spotlight. But there’s something that he really would have appreciated.
“There were just a couple things in his life that he really loved. That was, one, being inducted into the (National) Wrestling Hall of Fame. That was the best thing ever. And making the Pro Bowl for the Steelers. And, now, I believe this would be one of them, too.”
City Councilman Ricky Britt, Haselrig’s uncle Bruce Haselrig, and Jim White, a former municipal official, led the effort to rename the bridge that connects to Hornerstown where Haselrig lived.
“I appreciate the fellow council members that went along with me on it,” Britt said.
After achieving athletic success, Haselrig fell on hard times with substance abuse and legal issues, but later spent years coaching youth sports in the city.
“I think it shows the youth – and I’m talking about all youth – that just because you’re from the small city of Johnstown, or a small city, period, doesn’t mean you can’t reach the high levels of athletics if you put into it,” Britt said.
“This man went to the bottom, but he came back up to the top. It goes to show that anyone who puts their lumps in can achieve anything they want. All they’ve got to do is have the desire. No pain, no gain.”
Tony Penna Jr., who served as Johnstown’s varsity football head coach with Haselrig as a member of his staff for years, said the bridge can be an inspiration to children in the area.
“I think as far as its meaning, I hope that when kids cross that bridge and they see that sign, they can ask their families, and their coaches and their friends what Carlton accomplished and what he stood for,” Penna said.
“That’s what I hope. It’s a tremendous honor and it’s well deserved. But I hope it sparks those conversations where people are like ‘Who’s Carlton Haselrig?’ and then they can let them know and that legacy lives on.”
City Councilman Michael Capriotti spent a decade coaching alongside Haselrig, as their children grew up together.
“He loved coaching kids more than he probably loved playing the game,” Capriotti said. “He was so, so humble about that. Any chance he could he would share his experience with these kids as they were going off to college to play ball to try to help them understand to stay humble and stay on track.”
Details about the rest of the naming process and ceremony will be finalized later.