A Game, a Neighborhood, a Hometown Hero
Paul John Rizzo Domenic Sciullo II was a hell of a fitting name for a kid from Bloomfield. Sciullo grew up in the heart of Pittsburgh’s “Little Italy” in the late 70s and early 80s, when the ashen chimney smoke from the city’s steel factories still lingered over Bloomfield’s shingled roofs and brick-top school houses.
Bloomfield is an oasis of ethnic culture in Pittsburgh’s East End. It’s really just a main drag—Penn Avenue—and a few narrow side streets lined with row houses huddled shoulder-to-shoulder. But what the neighborhood lacks in size, it makes up for in heart. Bloomfield still has candy striped barber poles. The bartenders look you in the eye. And who needs chain stores when you can get “Whole Foods” like Prosciutto, Pancetta and Culatello by the pound, and with a smile?
Like a lot of kids growing up in Pittsburgh during the beginning of The Lemieux Era, Paul "The Rizz" Sciullo loved to play hockey. He started out playing on the uneven asphalt of Osceola Park, rattling an orange street hockey ball off the chain link fences surrounding the hoop-less basketball court. After school at St. Joseph’s, Sciullo would run to the park to play pickup games with his friends.
Paul (left) pumping some iron.
The clapping of their wooden sticks and high tops against the concrete would echo through the alleyways of Bloomfield until the sun fell behind the red brick steeples of St. Joe’s church. There was only one rule – when it got dark, and the smell of homemade marinara sauce started to waft through the neighborhood, it was time to go home for a big family dinner. No exceptions.
I imagine it was the same story for many Gen-X readers who grew up in the ‘Burgh. Like rings on a tree trunk, you can count the influence Lemieux and the Penguins had on kids growing up in the 80s by the puck dents in every garage door and garbage drum from Lawrenceville to Chippewa.
After honing his game on the pavement of city parks, Sciullo went on to play ice hockey for Central Catholic High School – captaining the 1991 team during his senior year, the same year the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup. He wore the old school black and white "Le Magnifique" Cooper gloves – and he had an old soul playing style to match. Despite being one of the smallest players on the team, Sciullo was a fearless scrapper with a knack for scoring in front of the net, according to teammates. His senior quote in the Central Catholic yearbook was fitting:
“Jesus saves! But I score on the rebound!”
Even after a scholarship took Sciullo to Duquesne University, where he juggled ice hockey, golf, a fraternity, and the Dean’s List, he always went home to Pearl Street for dinner every night. His fraternity brothers even teased him about it.
After graduating from Duquesne, Sciullo worked desk jobs as a computer programmer and consultant. But the Bloomfield boy wasn’t in his natural environment. He wanted to be on the streets, helping people. He wanted to make a difference in the community that raised him, according to his mother. So in October 2007, at age 35, Sciullo joined the Pittsburgh Police department.
By all accounts, it was the best decision he ever made. He even patrolled the streets of Bloomfield on occasion. He would cruise down Liberty Avenue in his squad car – past Lot 17, his favorite weekend pub, the kind where “everybody knows your name" – and then past the lime green astroturf of Dean’s Field, the modest alcove underneath the Bloomfield Bridge where Sciullo played little league baseball.
Before a night shift this past April, Sciullo stopped by his family’s Bloomfield home to eat dinner with his parents, as he did every night. He hugged his parents and went to work. It would be their last family dinner together.
Around 7 a.m. the next morning Sciullo and his partner Stephen Mayhle responded to a domestic disturbance at a home in Stanton Heights – a blue collar neighborhood of skinny, two-story brick houses much like Sciullo’s own neighborhood. There are no easy answers for what happened next. As the officers approached the door of the home, shots rang out in the stillness of the morning.
Four hours later, the deadliest standoff in the history of the Pittsburgh police department came to an end, claiming the lives of officers Sciullo and Mayhle, as well as officer Eric Kelly, a 14-year veteran of the force.
With black ribbons adorning the lamp posts of Bloomfield, mourners lined up outside St. Joe’s church to say goodbye to officer Sciullo. Friends and family had a lot to say about “Paulie.” But almost every tribute to the man was punctuated by one word in particular: Love. Sciullo loved his family, his neighborhood, his city. He loved life especially.
Perhaps his young niece, Anna Zahren said it best: "My Uncle Paul was the best uncle in the world. I remember his smiles that lit up the whole world.”
After the whirlwind of the G-20 summit rolled into town, Pittsburgh has often been referred to as one of the best places to live in this vast country. Apparently it’s because of things like computer chips and universities and sports teams.
Obviously, Pittsburghers know that’s all just a bunch of bull. We know the real reason why this city has been great for decades, and will continue to be great even if our high-tech companies go bust and our sports teams stink.
It’s because this city keeps raising men like Paul John Rizzo Domenic Sciullo II.
Here’s to heroes.
On Friday, December 18, 2009, Central Catholic High School will retire Paul Sciullo’s jersey at a special commemorative ceremony. All Pittsburghers are invited to attend and show their support for the Sciullo family, who will be on hand.
The ceremony will take place before Central Catholic’s game against Pine Richland at the BladeRunners Ice Complex in Harmarville at 8 p.m. Click here for Google Maps directions.
Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for students. Central Catholic’s portion of the ticket sales will be donated to the Paul J. Sciullo II Memorial Fund, a scholarship program that provides financial assistance to Central Catholic students.