The Penguins and PPG are working together on a series of stories to feature the most colorful fans in the game.
When teacher Joe Welch was born, his grandmother Sara moved in to help raise him since both of his parents worked full-time.
And while Welch was growing up in South Fayette Township, Sara helped him discover what would become two of his passions: American history and hockey.
"She was a member of the Women's Army Corps, and she would tell me these individual stories all the time about what it was like growing up during the Depression and World War II," Welch said. "I know you can learn in a history book about the statistics and big events, but when you hear personal stories, I think that's what I try to bring out of my students. Let's dig down, let's go to how this is actually affecting individuals.
"She is probably one of the reasons that I'm interested in hockey, too," Welch continued with a laugh. "She loved hockey. She loved Jaromir Jagr."
Sara, who recently passed away at the age of 98, would have been proud to hear that Welch - a Penguins season ticket holder who currently teaches American history at North Hills Middle School - was named the 2020 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.
"It was instantly a reflective moment," Welch said of the honor. "I felt so much pride - not only for the North Hills because I work with tremendous people here and worked with so many teachers that have retired that I started my career with and learned from - but I also think all the way back to my teachers when I went to South Fayette High School.
"There's just so many people along the way that have helped me out, whether it's teachers that I've modeled after or students that just come from great families here at North Hills."
Nominations for the Teacher of the Year were submitted by students, parents, peers and members of the community wishing to honor and recognize educator achievements both inside and outside of the classroom. Welch will be Pennsylvania's representative at next year's National Teacher of the Year competition.
"It's a job that even though there's a routine to it, you learn something new every day about what your kids can do and there's so much energy that they bring every day," Welch said. "I have so much fun because not only are the students great, I have great colleagues. Every day, every class period - there's something new to look forward to all the time."
Welch loves coming to Penguins games for the same reasons that he loves teaching.
"It's the energy and it's something new and exciting all the time," Welch said. "And in a sense, it's tradition for me. As weird as it is, myself and my coworkers here, we have the same routine every playoff game. If we don't send a certain text at a certain time, something is off (laughs). But when you go to an arena during a big playoff game, there's all that excitement."
While his grandmother Sara helped get him into hockey, Welch started attending games at Mellon Arena with his dad Tom, who was a season ticket holder with seats in section B32, Row G, seats 7-8.
Welch and his brother Matt, who is five years older than him, would alternate going to games with their father. The times that Joe stayed home, he would have KBL on and be listening to Mike Lange call the games.
"I was just obsessed at a very young age," Welch said. "It's actually kind of scary because it's come full circle (laughs). I see the same thing going on with my son Noah, who is 4. Every day he asks 'Alexa' about the Penguins."
When Welch got his first teaching job in 2008, his first purchase was buying season tickets because he loved going to games with his dad - and now he loves taking his son.
Noah is currently taking skating lessons and doing stick time, wearing a No. 4 jersey in honor of former Penguin Noah Welch - with Joe joking that he's not his son's namesake. Little Noah's passion for the game is already evident.
"I ask him, 'Do you want to go to a game?' And he'll say, 'Yeah, can we watch warmups?'" Welch said. "He wants to be on that glass 90 minutes before. I'm like, 'No, we're going to stand here for 45 minutes and nobody's going to be on the ice.' He's like, 'That's fine. We'll watch the ice crew.' And we've done that. It's been nine games and start to finish, he doesn't want to leave. He doesn't get out of his seat."
Joe and Matt took a road trip down to Nashville for the Stanley Cup-clinching Game 6 of the 2017 Final, which was the biggest moment he has witnessed in person. The greatest moment he witnessed in Pittsburgh was when Chris Kunitz scored in double overtime of Game 7 of the previous series, the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa.
"The collective exhale when Kunitz scored and the buildup was something I'll never forget," Welch said. "There have been so many cool moments over the years."
And when hockey comes back, Welch is looking forward to many more.
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