Batch gives back with youth camp
His summer basketball program is so successful that Pittsburgh wants to copy it.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Many NFL players donate money to charity, give speeches to youth groups, fund athletic programs or help wayward youngsters. To Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch, that's merely a night's work.
Batch is a child of the mean streets. His cherished 17-year-old sister, Danyl, was shot to death as an innocent bystander during random gang violence in 1996.
So, he gives more than cash or autographs to his hardscrabble hometown of Homestead.
He donates his time, love, knowledge, trust, patience and commitment -- and yes, his money, too -- for six weeks every summer, running a youth basketball program so successful Pittsburgh wants to copy it.
He walks the hot asphalt courts five hours nightly in the community of 3,600, while many of his fellow NFL players are vacationing, playing golf or swimming in their big backyard pools.
"Charlie just didn't go out and put the program together and then come and visit. He's visible every night," Homestead mayor Betty Esper said. "I don't see him miss too many nights, except if there's a team function. He takes 200 kids off the streets, puts them with young men who volunteer and teaches them more than basketball -- he teaches them respect."
Getting everyone involved
Batch chose basketball rather than football so both boys and girls from 7 to 18 could be involved. Batch runs the league and guides its 50-plus volunteers, makes sure the participants are getting good grades and serves as a mentor, friend and, occasionally, father figure.
Nightly, he deals with youngsters who may have only one parent, as he did growing up, or who have family members involved in drugs or street crime. No matter, he demands a strict adherence to rules, and violators aren't tolerated.
"One year, a couple of girls got into a fight, and the next night they came back to apologize," Esper said. "But Charlie said, 'The rules say no fighting,' and they never got back on. He has good, strong rules and good, strong coaches."
Occasionally, those coaches are Steelers players, such as Antwaan Randle El and Mike Logan, or NBA players such as Earl Boykins, who attended Eastern Michigan with Batch. Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon dropped by this summer, though NCAA rules allowed him to talk only with certain age groups.
Batch estimates he, his charitable foundation and Home Depot have spent far more than $50,000 just on playground improvements. About 100 Home Depot employees also donated their time to renovate the 16th Street Playground where the games are staged.
A milestone moment in the program's progression occurred this summer: the basketball courts were leveled. Previously, they sloped so badly that, Batch said, "I'm not exaggerating when I say they were shooting at a 12-foot basket on one end and an 8-footer on another."
Home Depot also helped out with scoreboards and new lighting, but some of the work wasn't done until after the league ended play. The delays, caused by the layers of red tape needed to get the improvements approved, led a frustrated Batch to begin yelling during a Homestead council meeting last spring.
Sympathetic council members did what any parent would do to calm him down: They called his mother, Lynn Settles. After rushing over from a nearby shopping center, she said simply but forcefully, "Sit down, Charlie."
Just as the 30-year-old Batch instructs his players to do, he listened to his mother.
"I had a lot of people come out this year and take a look at the program, to potentially take something out of it for their own programs. The city of Pittsburgh is knocking down the door to get into this program," Batch said. "I told them, 'I'll be more than happy to show you the bumps I had to get over to make it smoother for you."'