Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch spoke to students from Brentwood and Monessen High Schools on Tuesday, emphasizing the importance of sportsmanship and respect not only in high school sports, but also in daily life.
Batch has been a mediator between the two schools since a February incident in which Monessen basketball players accused the Brentwood home crowd of shouting racist taunts. Although the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) did not officially find any evidence of racism from Brentwood, WPIAL called on the two schools to creat a plan to promote dignity and respect at sporting events. The governing league asked Batch to step in as an intermediary.
Meetings started in March. Batch said there was a definite turning point in trying to get the message across to the students.
"It started when I had to kick all the administrative people out of the room," said Batch, with a laugh. "That was it, because they wanted to talk open and freely. The problem was, with the people who were still in the room, they could still get in trouble. So, once we were able to eliminate them out of the room, at that point they were able to speak, and speak freely, and just let me know what was on their minds."
Batch worked with UPMC's Dignity and Respect Campaign to help six students from each school come up with a plan to promote good sportsmanship. Before an assembly of hundreds at Monessen's auditorium Tuesday, the students presented their "Five Good Deeds on Game Day" and seven other ways to show respect to others. All high school students from the two districts have been asked to make a pledge to treat one another with respect.
After the event wrapped up, Batch said he doesn't think the presentation was a way to give closure to the incident in February.
"No, this is to start something new, because we're trying to make sure that we take the Five Good Deeds on Game Day," said Batch. "We're making sure that we go out there [with] the points of dignity and respect. We're trying to make sure that this evolves into every WPIAL school as it expands, hopefully, country-wide."
That sentiment was shared by UPMC's Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, Candi Castleberry-Singleton.
"I think that the closure came when it [the student meeting] happened," said Castleberry-Singleton. "I think that the kids and communities came together to try and resolve that, but I really believe that this is about how we should interact with each other every day without incident, not because of an incident. This is just how we should behave."
She and Batch said the credit goes to the students for coming together to create the dignity and respect plan.
Batch, an alumnus of Steel Valley High School, said he'd skip his alma mater's game Friday night to be at the Brentwood-Monessen football match.