Iconic figure: Pirilla made a name for himself in Perryopolis as a football player, business owner | Local
Len “Skip” Pirilla is an iconic figure in the Perryopolis community, first as a high school athlete and then as the head of a family business for 80 years, Perry Pharmacy.
Pirilla was a notable fullback / half-back for Perry High School in 1958 and 1959. In 1960 the name was changed to Frazier High School. Pirilla was one of the teams that set records of 5-4 in 1958 and 2-6-1 in 1959. In 1960, the Commodores went 7-2 with a loss to Class A Bellmar in the opener. and a 26-0 hand loss. of Washington Township in the game for the WPIAL Class B title.
“I was a college letterer for three years,” Pirilla said. “In 1960, everything went hand in hand and the team formed a team. It was always a team effort. We had a good line that opened up some holes and we had two other good full backs and we had a good quarterback and everything went well.
“The loss in the league game was a disappointment. Washington Township was very good, they were like a little college team. I think we were injured when East Pittsburgh called up the last game against us and we got an extra week off. It really messed up our timing and we couldn’t get on the right track.
Pirilla has had an exceptional season as a senior, scoring 10 touchdowns and six extra points for 66 points and gaining over 1,000 yards. He had scored a touchdown in second year and a touchdown in junior.
An All-Fayette County and All-WPIAL Class B selection as a senior, newspapers described Pirilla as a bruised full-back.
“I can’t say I had bruises,” Pirilla said. “At the time, measuring 6 feet and 190 pounds, I was probably one of the bigger backs. It was another era of football and in fact, I ran away from tacklers more than I crushed them. There is a very stark contrast in size between the players of my time and today. The biggest player on our team was an intermediate goalie who weighed 220 pounds.
“We were building this senior season from when we were in college. We’ve been the same team all these years and it’s not just that we’ve merged. We knew everyone’s position, we knew what the job was at that position and anyone could substitute in any position. We were interchangeable all around. We didn’t do a lot, but we could do it.
Looking back, Pirilla has great respect for her former head coach Don Mains.
“We had a great relationship,” Pirilla said. “Our coach was probably one of the best coaches in the area. Of all the coaches I have had, he still ranks number one.
Pirilla played basketball in his sophomore grade, but decided to stick with football in the hopes of playing college.
“I’ve always had hope,” Pirilla said. “But you never know.”
Pirilla was recruited by West Virginia and other schools.
“WVU came about because of former Perry player Bob Benke who played for the Mountaineers,” said Pirilla. “I had other offers from Minnesota, South Carolina, I visited Notre Dame. Houston volunteered with Dayton and Virginia Tech. My dad was a Big Pitt at the time, and I talked to them. But I followed Benke to West Virginia.
Pirilla played freshman football for coach Ed Shockey at WVU on a team that went 4-1.
“Our only loss in the first year was against Pitt,” Pirilla recalls. “We beat Penn State. Joe Paterno was the first-year coach at Penn State that year. We had a good team. I keep in touch with my roommate Milt Clegg.
“At college in 1962, we were 8-2 and I was a back-up running back. I didn’t see any action and for me, that’s when things went wrong. I lost all interest in football. I stayed with the 1963 squad which was 4-6. I can laugh at myself now, but in 1962 and 1963 that was probably the lowest point I had as a varsity athlete. I decided I had had enough and gave up my scholarship in 1964. Still the question of whether I had stayed, but I never looked back.
“I made a decision, am I going to be an athlete or am I going to be a student? I was studying in the physical education department and got my grades in order and graduated in January 1966.
Pirilla accepted a job at Elizabeth Forward High School by establishing its elementary physical education department. Pirilla remained at Elizabeth Forward from 1966 to 1970. He decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy. He graduated from Pitt in 1974.
“My dad had a stroke and he said someone has to take the pharmacy or I’m going to sell it,” Pirilla said. “That’s when I decided to go for it. I wanted it to stay in the family. It’s pretty special, we’ve been in business at Perry Pharmacy for 80 years. We are anchored in the community and I am proud of it. I’m more proud of this than anything in football.
Pirilla, 78, still resides in Perryopolis. He and his wife Marie were married for 55 years until his death in March 2021. They have four children: three daughters and a son. Pirilla has five grandchildren.
Looking back, Pirilla feels that life has been great.
“Track and field helped me on my way,” Pirilla said. “Managing the pharmacy was a labor of love. It’s my life and I really enjoyed it. Since my wife passed away, this is the only thing I have at the moment and it keeps me going.
George Von Benko’s “Memory Lane” column appears in the Sunday editions of the Herald-Standard. He also hosts a sports talk show on WMBS-AM radio from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.