The stadium lights cut through the darkness, and the crowd’s cheers simmer to a hush as the quarterback shouts, “HUT, HUT, HIKE!” High above the end zone, a very special set of Friday night lights, forming the word “LEBO,” shimmer in the distance—like an ever-constant cheer of encouragement from the Mt. Lebanon community to the athletes below.
Indeed, the now-legendary LEBO sign has become a beloved game-day tradition and a symbol of community pride. But how did it come to be? Find out below in an interview with Beverly Gray, who has been displaying the sign from the deck of her Lebanon Avenue home for more than 20 years.
How long have you lived on Lebanon Avenue?
“I moved to Pittsburgh almost 30 years ago and met my husband, Chip, who is a Lebo grad. Class of ’83. I’m originally from Bethlehem, PA … We moved into this house six months after we got married, and we will be married 24 years next summer. We had two children, Turner, who is a junior in college, and Jackson, who is a senior [in high school]. ” Kevin Kinyua, who graduated from Mt. Lebanon in 2014, also calls the Gray house home.
“I have been a teacher aid for the school district for seven years. This is my second year at Washington School,” she says.
What’s it like to live next to a football field?
“If you ask Chip and I separately, we would have different answers (*laughing*).
Chip had to sell me on it. The location is great, just because it’s close to the high school, park, library, Uptown, the swimming pool. And obviously the view of the football field is great. For my husband, it was a huge selling point. For me, I could take it or leave it. He didn’t play football [in high school], but he loved the idea of it—and all of our sons are wrestlers. Living here can be wonderful. We get to see commencement every year. We make a point to sit on the patio and watch. It’s also nice not having someone else’s yard in back of us. Instead, we have a football field, which always has something going on. We can see band rehearsals, track meets, soccer games, etc.
The hardest thing is Saturday mornings—with football practices at 8 a.m. It’s not a peaceful place to live, but we’re used to it. If you are sick or you want to go to bed early, like on a Thursday night, there are whistles and crowd noises. That’s the only time it’s really hard.”
How did you get the idea to set up the LEBO sign?
“It was Chip’s idea to make the letters. He reached out to Mr. Manning (Richard Manning, longtime Mt. Lebanon High School shop teacher, who died in 2017), because Chip had him for shop class when he was in high school. Mr. Manning made the letters with the help of students, and also donated the WWII air raid siren that we use for touchdowns. He gave us lights, too … I believe this was in 1997, so we’ve been doing this for more than 20 years.”
What does it take to maintain the letters?
“We store them in the garage in the off-season, so every fall, it’s almost ceremonial when we put the lights up. Chip used to do it, and then he passed it on to Turner. We keep them up all through football season.
But now they’re just old. The siren and the letters are all that have survived. They are 20 years old, and they were just made of plywood—not even weatherproofed—so we are looking to have them replaced. Just to keep the tradition. The football team actually reached out to Chip and said they would help us with it.”
How do people react to the sign?
“When people ask where we live, we say ‘have you ever walked on the track? Do you see the house with the LEBO sign?’ We usually get ‘Oh my gosh! I’ve always wondered!’
For example, when Jackson was born, we were in the hospital talking to one of the nurses, who often walked on the track and knew our house. She was so excited.
More recently, I had to sell a piece of furniture or something [online], and this woman sent her husband to pick it up. He came around the back, and when he saw it was the LEBO house, he was starstruck. He always wondered what it was like to be up there.
There is a lot of that. It is fun.”
Do you have any game-day traditions?
“When we first moved in, we made the games like a big party, but I just couldn’t maintain it. Now I don’t always watch, but I’m there. We just never know who is going to show up in our backyard. For the most part, it’s people we know. Sometimes people bring friends. As long as you bring your own food and drink, we provide the view and fire.”
How much longer do you intend to do this?
“My youngest is a senior. Once the boys are gone, we may move somewhere quieter. We are at the stage where we are thinking about it. We did a big addition about 18 years ago, so we have a lot of space.
Whoever gets the house needs to like football. The sign comes with it and so does the responsibility.”
Why have you continued this tradition for all of these years?
“You know, one of the best things—they have just started doing this again, but it started years ago—at the end of every game, the players would take their helmets off and salute us and Chip.
Let’s be real. What we have is a yellow plywood sign and a siren. That’s it. But it makes people feel good, and I think people are sort of counting on it now that it has been so many years.
I believe everything is a gift. Whatever you have been given, you should always make the most of it.
We live above a football field, so we might as well have an air raid siren.”