Monday, September 6, 2010

A Pittsburgh Feel Good Story

I really enjoy reading stuff by Peter King. Here is an excerpt from his Monday Morning QB article on With all of the negative stuff I heard about Pittsburgh Steeler quarter backs this year, it feels good to read something nice about one of their quarterbacks for a change.

Before I get to the Cutdown weekend news, I want to focus on Pittsburgh for a few paragraphs. Yes, the Steelers. A certain someone's Super Bowl pick. In the wake of the team's preseason game Thursday, and the injury to presumptive starting quarterback Byron Leftwich, and the four-game suspension Ben Roethlisberger begins today, there might just be a little hometown-boy-makes-very-good fairy tale being written.

It's possible Steelers coach Mike Tomlin might play 35-year-old Charlie Batch at quarterback in the opener against Atlanta, or in one of the other three games before Roethlisberger returns to face Cleveland on Oct. 17. Or Tomlin could choose the electric but erratic Dennis Dixon to play some or all of the four games. Whatever, Batch will report for practice today without an idea what the immediate future holds for him.

"I don't know anything,'' he said over the weekend. "But I've thought about what it would be like to have that chance. It would be wonderful. I grew up here, and I dreamed about being Mark Malone or Walter Abercrombie some day. I thank God every day I wake up a Steeler. I get to put the black and gold on every day. I'm living the dream.''

Batch last started a game on opening day 2006, with Roethlisberger out after an emergency appendectomy. He completed 15 of 25 passes that day, three for touchdowns in a 28-17 victory over the Dolphins. That made him 3-0 as a replacement starter for the Steelers over a two-year period, something Tomlin might consider in deciding whether to start Batch and bring in Dixon as a changeup pitcher. Or he could give the job to Dixon. Neither would be a surprise. But if it's Batch, it would be the football gods saying, "Son, you deserve this.''

In 1996, when Batch was a quarterback at Eastern Michigan, his younger sister, Danyl Settles, was killed in the crossfire between rival gangs in the rough Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homestead, where the family grew up. Batch was drafted by Detroit in 1998 and played there for parts of four seasons. When the Lions let Batch go in 2002, the Steelers signed him as a backup. Knowing he was moving back home, he decided he had to do something about the hopelessness and violence that plagued the neighborhood where he was raised.

He started a summer basketball program for the boys and girls in town. The program began the Monday after school let out and ran until the weekend before football practice began in late July. It was a bridge, in essence, to keep kids with nothing to do off the streets. And there were a couple of wrinkles. Whereas kids in the Steel Valley School District had to have a 2.0 grade-point average to play sports, Batch made it 2.2 -- so kids would know it's a privilege, and not a right, to play in his league. And he coupled educational opportunities with the sport. Batch put computers in his foundation office in Homestead and set up a place for kids to have an after-school program -- in a community with no YMCA or Boys and Girls Club. He partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to begin taking 15 students a summer to the university to work with architecture professors to see if any of the students might have an architectural bent.

This year, 353 boys and girls, from grade school through high school, played in the Batch basketball league. All had the grades to play -- some because Batch is good friends with the high school guidance counselor, who goes to the kids on the borderline at the end of the third term and tells them: No 2.2, no basketball for you this summer.

When I visited Steelers camp in Latrobe, Pa., this summer, Batch told me about all of this, and I said to him, "You could easily be like so many other players -- just take your money, live the good life, buy a house in Boca and move there. Why didn't you do it?''

"Because I never want another family to feel the way my family did,'' Batch said. "Nothing existed there. If the kids have nothing to do, they all go hang out on one block until the cops tell them to move along. Then they just go find another block. They need something to do, something positive. I want them to understand that sports and education can go hand in hand. You've got to be good to be able to do the other.''

Terrelle Pryor, the Ohio State quarterback, was in the program. DeJuan Blair, the San Antonio Spur, was too. But Batch is more excited about the two kids who played who also found out they loved architecture. They're still in high school, and Batch is hoping they have a chance to further their education with academic scholarships.

Batch gives his cell phone out to all the participants in the program -- not so they'll call and ask him who's going to win the Steelers game that week. "I want them to know there's somebody there for them if they need to talk about anything,'' he said. "I get a few calls.''

I hope he gets another one Sunday from Mike Tomlin, telling him he's starting against Atlanta.

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