THE GREAT SWITCHBLADE INCIDENT OF ’75

by Eric Bombeck

Hi, I’m excited to announce a partnership of sorts with Small Town Memories. Fellow Sharpsville alum, Ann Angel Eberhardt, has graciously agreed to add me as co-editor to her amazing site. I look forward to adding my own quirky take on growing up here in “the valley.”

I am the publishing editor of The Way It Was newspaper here in Mercer County. I also have a few radio shows on local radio stations. The Bombeck Show can be heard on Wednesday evenings at 5:00 pm (eastern) on WPIC 790 am, www.790wpic.com.

This site has always focused on growing up in Sharpsville, but after a discussion with Ann, we thought it may be time to expand the site to include stories about surrounding areas. I feel blessed to be a part of this wonderful and important site that is preserving the memories of our beloved home towns.

— Eric Bombeck

The Great Switchblade Incident of ’75

By Eric Bombeck

Almost every teacher I had at William P. Snyder Junior High in Sharpsville said some version of the following statement to me at one time or another:

“Eric…Shut up…You’re never going to get a job just talking!”

You’d think it would get better in high school, but I distinctly remember walking into homeroom my junior year and stopping cold at the door. Mrs. Fowler had literally filled the front blackboard – top to bottom – right to left – with these 3-foot high letters:

[Image by Gustavofer74]

Mrs. Fowler meant nothing by it, she was just having a little fun, and I took it that way. (Maybe I’m just now realizing that when I had the chance at a job as a radio talk show host at WPIC, I took it just to prove to that somebody would pay me just to talk. But that’s off subject.)

Of course back then the world was a little more black and white. If you got outta line in school they paddled you. Simple – swift – justice. I was often at the wrong end of the “justice” being served up in my junior high years. In fact, I was paddled so many times (usually for talking) in Junior High that I could fill this paper up with stories for the rest of the year. (I went online to see what year they made paddling illegal in schools. To my surprise corporal punishment is still legal in 16 states, almost all in the south!)

This is a Junior High story about the time I wasn’t paddled!

It was the spring of 1975; I was in eighth grade. Being that there was only grades six, seven and eight in our building, eighth graders were kinda like the seniors of the building. Really immature seniors.

One day while sitting in “Buzz” Conroy’s science class on the second floor, one of the office secretaries walked into our room to make an announcement. She said, “I would like all the boys to put their hands on top of their desks right now and then stand up and follow me.” All roughly 15 guys stood up and she lead us down to the principal’s office.

Principal Jerry Tallarico acted like a tough guy, but there was a twinkle in his eye that let you know he was just doing his job, keeping the hormone-influenced mob (us) in check. He was sitting at his desk and the 15 of us were jammed into a space that could hold about 4 or 5 adults comfortably. He explained that a classmate of ours named Dave had been seen with a switchblade. He then said we were to come up in front of his desk individually and empty our pockets. The first kid, named Rob, was really nervous until Mr. Tallarico said, “I’m not interested in your cigarettes, son.” One by one each kid emptied his pockets.

I have to explain that there were some kids who were unaware of what was going on around them during these formative years. I was, however, not one of those kids. For some reason, I knew intuitively that eighth grade was the “last hurrah” of being a kid. Next year high school would be here, dances, girls… It would be time to grow up. But this was eighth grade, what’s the hurry?

[Image by PublicDomain Pictures]

Earlier in the day, the librarian had asked me to take some craft projects down and throw them away. One of the projects had dozens of little green plastic army men in it, and I of course, instead of throwing them away filled my pockets with them, jean jacket pockets included. I was a little old for them, but maybe I could take them home and blow them up with firecrackers or something.

The mood in the room was somber. After all, we were looking for a deadly weapon. Then it was my turn. As I approached Mr. Tallarico’s desk, I could see this was a pretty serious issue in his view. I started with the plastic army men in my front pockets first. Keeping with my credo of the “last hurrah” of youth, I began to set the army men up one by one on opposing sides like you would do if you were preparing for mock war. The front pockets were emptied and about 25 army men were on the front of the principal’s desk. As I was continuing to empty my pockets, I stole a glance at Mr. Tallarico. It was better than I hoped for; it was all he could do to keep from laughing. “Operation Immature” was working but there were more pockets to empty. I moved to the front jean jacket pockets and began to unload army men from them. After one jacket pocket was empty, I moved to the other one. At this point, my shtick must have been getting old. Mr. Tallarico laughing and irritated at the same time, half yelled, “ALRIGHT, I’ve seen enough of this, clear my desk.” By the look on his face, as he sat back in his chair, it seemed that the tension in the room had been broken. My job here was done.

Everybody emptied their pockets and nothing was found, so they sent us back to “Buzz” Conroy’s (the mad man of science) class.

When it was all said and done, Dave didn’t have a switchblade after all. It turned out to be a switch-comb.

[Source: Sharpsville High School Yearbook, “Devils Log 1958,” page 11]

When I think about those days in Junior High, I am reminded of the final line of the movie “Stand By Me,” a film about being a kid. Richard Dreyfuss says,

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12 …. does anyone?”

– Eric Bombeck, (SHS 1979), South Pymatuning, PA


For more about the shenanigans of Sharpsville Area boys
in the old days, see:
South Pymatuning Township
The Three Lost Boys of Sharpsville
A Treehouse Grows in Sharpsville


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