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Burgettstown native plays a super role in Super Bowl flyover

Before the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers take the field on Sunday to face off in Super Bowl LIV, four fighter jets will fly over Hard Rock Stadium in Miami as spectators and a television audience of about 100 million people look on.

And Burgettstown native AMC Chief Petty Officer Aaron Duda is responsible for making sure the aircraft fly without a hitch.

Duda, a U.S. Navy mechanic, is the maintenance control chief for Electronic Attack Squadron 133 (VAQ-13), one of four Navy and U.S. Marine Corps squadrons from three military bases participating in the flyover.

As one of the leaders of the flyover demonstration team, Duda’s job is to make sure the aircraft are prepped and ready to fly, so pilots arrive at the stadium at the precise time.

“I’m extremely excited. I’ve done special events before, but nothing as big as the Super Bowl,” said Duda, who is stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in the state of Washington. “It’s probably going to be one of the most memorable things I’ve done in my career,” said Duda.

As soon as Demi Lovato finishes singing the national anthem, the jets will streak across the stadium, in formation.

The flyover last seconds, but the planning and preparation involving the U.S. Armed Forces will have taken weeks.

“This sailor is an aviation structural mechanic who has had a career working on the frames of these sophisticated aircraft. When the flight demonstration team does its flyover, Chief Duda is responsible for getting the squadron aircraft to fly. It’s cool for him to be a part of it,” said Cmdr. Ron Flanders, spokesman for Naval Air Forces in San Diego.

Military flyovers – which began in 1968, when U.S. Air Force jets flew over Miami’s Orange Bowl in Super Bowl II – have become a central part of festivities at the Super Bowl.

Duda said his responsibilities on Super Bowl Sunday aren’t much different than they are any other day – except he’s usually performing those duties while aboard an aircraft carrier.

“I screen the log books, make sure the aircraft is safe for the pilots to fly, release the aircraft and then recover them,” said Duda.

This year’s flyover features an estimated $200 million worth of military aircraft – an EA-18G Growler, two F-35s and an F-35 Lightning II.

Duda maintains Growlers, the U.S. Navy’s newest electronic aircraft, which provide tactical jamming and electronic protection to U.S. military forces and allies around the world.

Duda arrived at Homestead Air Reserve Base, about 45 miles from Hard Rock Stadium, on Thursday to prepare for a practice flyover on Saturday and the performance on Sunday.

The birds arrived at the Homestead base on Friday.

“We’ll do the practice run to make sure the timing estimates on the charts are correct, and to see how long it takes to get to the stadium. They know where they need to be. Then, we’ll inspect them again, fuel them and get them ready for the Super Bowl,” said Duda.

Weather conditions are expected to be ideal at kickoff: The game time forecast calls for temperatures in the low 70s, with west to northwesterly winds at 12 mph.

Duda, 39, graduated from Burgettstown High School and attended Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for a semester before he joined the Navy.

He has served aboard three Navy aircraft carriers and has been deployed about 10 times to nearly two dozen countries throughout the world, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany and Turkey.

In May, he completed an around-the-world cruise aboard the nuclear powered supercarrier U.S.S. John C. Stennis.

Duda will not attend the NFL’s biggest game, but the lifelong, die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan will watch it. He’s rooting for the 49ers.

His wife, Brandie, a fourth-grade teacher, and two children, Kaylie, 18, and Coen, 15, are excited about Duda’s role in the pregame ceremony.

“They’re very proud Navy kids,” said Duda.

Regardless of the outcome, the Super Bowl will be an unforgettable one for Duda.

“I have the unique privilege of representing the U.S. Navy and working in conjunction with the Navy, Marines and Air Force as we conduct the flyover,” said Duda. “I was pretty excited when I was told I was going to launch the aircraft for the Super Bowl. It still really hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Who was first couple to tie the knot on Gobbler's Knob on Groundhog Day?

No cassette played Sonny and Cher crooning, “I Got You Babe,” not even once, let alone multiple times.

It was Groundhog Day 1992 in Punxsutawney, Pa., and actor Bill Murray – but not co-star Andie McDowell – attended.

Little did the new Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Layne know that they were apparently the first in what was to become a phenomenon.

It was the year before the romantic comedy of the same name hit the big screen – and the Laynes were getting hitched at the Weather Capital of the World, on Gobbler’s Knob, following Phil’s famous prognostication.

“It will be 28 years,” said Priscella Layne of West Finley in a recent interview.

Although the scenes purported to be Punxsutawney in a time warp were actually shot in several locations in Illinois, the crew and Murray were in the Jefferson County town to research and witness the actual celebration beforehand.

Because their wedding predated the hoopla that resulted from the movie, what motivated the Laynes to be on the cutting edge of what was to become a trend?

Feb. 2 was Jonathan Layne’s mother’s birthday, and when he mentioned that as his reason for wanting to get married then, Priscella brought up Groundhog Day.

The suspense of the shadow-seeing celebration didn’t register with her fiance, but, after first writing to the local Chamber of Commerce, they gamely headed for Punxsutawney to tie the knot.

“We went up the day before,” Priscella said. “We had no idea what we were getting into.”

Groundhog Day fell on a Sunday that year, and Old Man Winter had the place in his clutches.

“Everything was solid ice,” Priscella Layne recalled. “They put straw on top of the ice. It was like a sled.” The rugged conditions precluded a full-length gown and high heels.

The bride, for “something old,” carried her Bible containing pictures of her daughters, mother and father. A heavy pant suit was her something new. She wore her daughter’s coat as something borrowed.

And her “something blue?”

“Probably blue from the cold,” she said.

Phil emerges from his burrow around sunrise, but the Laynes exchanged vows about 11 a.m. Her daughters were in college, and the happy couple brought no attendants, but members of the Groundhog Club stood with the couple. A local lady gave Priscella a corsage.

She estimated about 40 people attended the ceremony, performed by a Jefferson County magistrate. The couple was invited out for pie and hot coffee afterward. They stayed in the Pantall Hotel, the same venue as Bill Murray, who autographed a sweatshirt for the bridegroom.

Punxsutawney on 02-02-2020 will feature weddings and renewals of vows this year, not at Gobbler’s Knob, and not at 2 p.m., but from 10 to 11 a.m. at the civic center in Barclay Square. Just like with the Laynes, all weddings were scheduled in advance, so there are no nuptials performed at a moment’s notice. This isn’t Las Vegas, after all, and Pennsylvania requires a waiting period of at least three days between application and the issuing of a marriage license.

Nonetheless, one Punxsutawney booster described it as “a great town, a great time, and people come from all over the world.”

The Laynes are now retirees, she from a 23-year career as a paraprofessional with the McGuffey School District, and he, she said, “from the river,” where, as a tankerman, he pumped petroleum from barges.

They have a small farm with alpacas, goats and chickens.

Over the years, the Laynes have returned to Punxy about four times, and they have developed an anniversary ritual.

“We always watched to find out if the groundhog saw his shadow,” Priscella Layne said.

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Annual Frosty Frolic raises money for California schools

COAL CENTER – It’s not jumping in the water on a winter’s day that’s hard, Ashley Roth discovered. It’s how you feel when you emerge into the cold air.

“The hardest part is getting out,” she exclaimed, dripping wet after leaping into the Monongahela River Saturday at the Coal Center wharf.

Roth was among the participants in the Frosty Frolic, the annual fundraiser that benefits the California Area School District Foundation. Roth was one of about 50 people who signed on to jump in the river when it’s typically comfortable only for coldwater fish. She was with a team from the Village Early Childhood Education Center in California, and they all took part as a “team-building” exercise.

Though Saturday met the “frosty” designation, it wasn’t quite as chilly as last year or previous years. The air temperature was just a notch below freezing at 31 degrees, while the water was a comparably toasty 41 degrees. In 2019, a dunking tank replaced the jump into the Mon after flood waters damaged the docks in Coal Center and subzero wind chills swept through the region a few days before.

Nevertheless, the water “was a lot colder than I thought it would be,” said Joe Wincko of Bethel Park, as he was running to a warming tent Saturday.

Now in its seventh year, the Frosty Frolic was expected to raise about $8,000 for the foundation this year, with proceeds going toward scholarships and grants for students and teachers in the school district.

Walter MacFann, the president of the foundation and organizer of the Frosty Frolic, is a veteran when it comes to jumping into frigid waters, and noted the best strategy is to “jump in with clothes that don’t retain water and get out quickly.”

MacFann was dressed as Captain Kirk from the original “Star Trek” series, and other participants also donned costumes. Madison Willson of Belle Vernon dressed as the “Monongahela Monster,” taking a note from the Loch Ness Monster and other legends, and others honored Groundhog Day by sporting stovepipe hats.