Steelers’ Charlie Batch speaks about importance of sports

Football means different things to different people. For Carnegie Mellon students, the Super Bowl, for instance, was an opportunity to take a break from homework and have some fun. For families, football games mean time together on the couch for 16 weeks out of the year. For the residents of Homestead in the 1970s and ’80s, the Steelers’ four Super Bowl titles gave them something to be proud of. The team helped keep people’s minds off of the disintegration of the steel industry, which culminated with the closing of the Homestead Works in 1984.

“I never knew the impact it would have,” said Homestead native and Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch at a lecture last Monday night. “But as we got a little older, that’s when people started to say, ‘Yeah you need to figure out what you want to do because the days of dropping out of high school or going right from high school to the steel mills are over.’ But in our town, people really kept their minds off it....”

For Batch, football became the way out of the economic depression and violence that engulfed Homestead, violence that would claim the life of his 17-year-old sister in the mid-1990s. At the time, Batch was at Eastern Michigan University; “My major was football, and I minored in whatever else,” he said.

Batch, who was studying criminal justice, considered quitting school, but the thought that kept him there was, in his words, “I’ve got to do something to get my family out of the situation.”

Batch played hard and in 1998 was drafted by the Detroit Lions, where he started from 1998 to 2001. In 2002, Batch returned to Pittsburgh as the Steelers’ backup quarterback, a position he continues to hold today.

As a member of Steelers squad that won the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl, Batch returned to Homestead a hero. He described a parade through Pittsburgh, telling the audience he could not imagine anything other than football inspiring 250,000 people to celebrate a single event.
When he returned to Pittsburgh from Detroit, Batch set up the Best of the Batch foundation, which centers on a summer basketball league. The league, now in its seventh year, started with 125 kids and 25 volunteers, and has grown to 300 kids and 80 volunteers.

Batch’s goal in his foundation is not just to go to a middle school and throw a couple passes to kids who can’t catch. On the contrary, he is very visible in the league and is there frequently in the summertime. “They need people in their lives they can trust — bottom line,” he said.
Over the summer, Batch is interested in keeping Homestead kids off the streets. He found that a football league was less ideal than one for basketball, which fills up the time immediately after school ends until football camp later in the summer.

“The only thing they’ll want to do when they go home is go to sleep,” said Batch, who wears kids out during the practices.

At the lecture, one audience member criticized Batch for presenting a career as a professional athlete as the path to success, as becoming a professional athlete is extremely difficult. Batch agreed, and he’s not necessarily trying to inspire the next Michael Jordan.

“Sports and education go hand in hand,” Batch said. Best of the Batch requires a 2.2 GPA to play, and he’ll check up on the kids’ grades, not just in the semester before basketball but throughout the entire year.

If you’re a grade schooler in Homestead and you’re not doing your homework, you’re liable to get a visit from Batch. Part of Batch’s emphasis on education probably comes from his mother, who made him go to summer school in sixth grade at the expense of football.

Batch also feels that sports equip kids with skills they’ll use throughout life, even if they don’t become professional athletes. “I think [playing a sport] gives them something to do with their time — staying competitive, learning how to be productive with a team and be part of a team,” he said. “I think [having these skills] helps you in the work force too.”

Batch feels his program has been successful. He felt particularly pleased when the Homestead police told him they don’t even bother patrolling when basketball is in session. He takes pride in the fact that there’s only ever been one fight in his league, and that was between two girls fighting “over who they were going with,” he said.

While football was the only choice for Batch in the early 1990s, he’s helping to educate kids in Homestead and expand their opportunities. “Remember, at some point, somebody helped you,” he said. “We didn’t do it alone.”