Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch and Latasha Wilson-Batch, center, talk with Candi Castleberry-Singleton, founder of the Dignity and Respect Campaign before an event at Brentwood High School to deal with an incident at a Brentwood-Monessen sporting event. The assembly, held in the Brentwood auditorium, included participants from Monessen.
Brentwood's Sean O'Brien, left, and Monessen's Justice Rawlins, right, pose with proclamations presented to both schools by Brentwood's mayor to mark the schools' efforts Wednesday to combat the conflicts of this past winter.
By Brandon Boyd Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch has helped calm frayed feelings stemming from a February quarrel between Brentwood and Monessen high schools.
That tiff was sparked when two Brentwood students wore banana suits at a boys basketball game between the schools Feb. 3. On Wednesday, Batch and students from both schools gathered at Brentwood for an assembly on sportsmanship and respect, and to announce that Sept. 7, the day the two schools will play each other in football, will be known as "Sportsmanship, Dignity and Respect Day" in Brentwood.
Charlie Batch helps Brentwood and Monessen students come together
The WPIAL enlisted the help of Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch to help students from Brentwood and Monessen high schools promote respect following a racially charged dispute at a basketball game in February. (Video by Brian Batko; 5/30/2012)
The February game was marred when Brentwood students came on to the court wearing banana outfits at halftime, which some Monessen fans interpreted as racist. There were also accusations that the predominately black Monessen team was subjected to racial taunts and slurs.
"I read about it in the newspaper and posted it on my fan page," Batch said Wednesday. "There was lots of reaction and lots of comments, and about a week later I got a call from [WPIAL executive director] Tim O'Malley about doing a program with the kids."
Batch and the UPMC Dignity & Respect Program worked with six students from each school to come up with a program that would be beneficial for everyone.
The students generated a list of five good deeds to complete on game days, including complimenting someone. They also presented seven ways to show dignity and respect toward others, including learning about a different culture.
"I believe in what they are doing," Batch said. "I have been in similar situations."
As for the basketball incident, the WPIAL held a three-hour hearing in February and found that no racial harassment had occurred .
The WPIAL did, however, want both schools to work together, continuing with Wednesday's assembly at Brentwood High School.
"The WPIAL's decision was to get the teams together to address sportsmanship at the two schools," Brentwood principal Jason Olexa said. "We've come a long way from February."
Monessen principal Brian Sutherland said Wednesday's assembly is "another piece in the healing process between Brentwood and Monessen."
Sutherland and Olexa agreed that much of the hoopla surrounding the banana-costume incident has been fanned by parents, students, the community and the media.
"A lot of things were misunderstood and blown out of proportion," Olexa said.
Sutherland added that because of the community's reaction, there were suggestions to keep adults from attending the Sept. 7 football game, but said that nothing formal had been presented.
With Batch's help and some time to heal, it's clear that many students of the two schools have patched things up. Those directly involved in the incident, the basketball players, said there never was any ill will.
"Everything got misinterpreted," Brentwood player Jack Murano said. "I didn't think it was a huge deal."
The players from Monessen agreed.
"It got all hyped up," said Luke Doptis, 16, a member of Monessen's basketball team, "but I have no problem with guys wearing those types of suits."