Batch learned lesson off field, gives back to community
April 13, 2008 8:00 AM
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch.
By Maria Sciullo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As childhood dramas go, losing football was a very big deal to Charlie Batch.
"It was taken from me in sixth grade. I kind of messed around, failed a class I shouldn't have failed and had to go to summer school," he said, shaking his head.
His mother, Lynn Settles, remembered his reluctance to show her the report card: "He was so scared to come home."
Adding financial insult to academic injury, Ms. Settles discovered that the Steel Valley School District, where Charlie was a student, required that she hire a tutor for him. Working two jobs as a single mom, she ponied up a $125 fee, only to be told that the tutor could do little for her son because Charlie knew the subject matter, he just hadn't done the work.
"Charlie just goofed off," she said.
"He learned a very hard lesson because he couldn't play football or basketball [until he passed the course]. I had him suffer the entire summer, I did."
Her Charlie, known to Pittsburgh Steelers fans as No. 16, second on the quarterback depth chart to Ben Roethlisberger, doesn't goof off anymore.
In fact, the daily schedule for the Homestead native who now lives in Franklin Park is fairly exhausting, but happily so.
His Best of the Batch Foundation has been a model for local athletes giving back to community. From its red-brick headquarters on a residential street in Munhall, four full-time employees field requests for the foundation's help with local programs, and Mr. Batch often comes straight to his office from the Steelers' practice facility down the road in the South Side.
"It's not a 9 to 5 job, typically," he said. "January and February are really busy. We do a lot of scheduling then."
In addition to his day job with the Steelers and various charitable and public speaking events he attends in the team's name, Mr. Batch has been heavily involved in the community where he grew up, working with Eyeglass World to provide free vision screening and eyewear to children in the Steel Valley School District one week, setting up a computer lab for public use another week.
Recently at a basketball banquet, he met a female basketball player who was undecided and confused about accepting a college scholarship, so he put her in touch with Swin Cash, star of the Women's National Basketball Association team, Seattle Storm.
Mr. Batch will be delivering commencement speeches at Steel Valley and Wilkinsburg high schools this year.
His summer basketball program called CHUCK -- Continuously Helping Uplift Community Kids -- gives Mon Valley youngsters ages 7 to 18 a place to play five nights a week each summer, but it isn't just a cadre of 80 volunteers running things. Ms. Settles is there helping run things every night and her son is constantly there, too.
After Antwaan Randle El left the Steelers, Mr. Batch took over hosting the nonprofit Pittsburgh Mercy Foundation celebrity golf outing. This year's event is June 6 at Sewickley Heights Golf Club.
That's just for starters. Tasha Wilson, Best of the Batch Foundation executive director, said the group's information line received more than 2,300 e-mails in the past 12 months, some of which were requests for speaking engagements or donations.
"There are times when you have to tell people 'no,' and you can't do everything," Mr. Batch said. "And you feel bad because there is just not enough time in a day, or in the course of a season."
Mr. Batch appears to consider himself fortunate for the chance to make connections for others.
"He was always a leader, never a follower," Ms. Settles said.
He said one of his favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
It wasn't necessarily an easy path, he said. It's easy now to see a gifted athlete making good money and looking ahead to substantial projects, such as turning a former bakery and storage building in Homestead into residential lofts and retail development.
But "when I go out and tell my stories, it isn't storybook," he said. "After 10 years in pro football, standing here in front of you, I want you to know it doesn't happen overnight.
"There is no right way, you have to create it on your own, because the way I did it wasn't typical."
Mr. Batch, 33, was a star athlete at Steel Valley who led the Ironmen to the WPIAL football title in 1991 and to the basketball playoffs as well.
He starred at Eastern Michigan University, after a slow start fraught with injury and frustration. In 1995, a change in coaches changed his life.
"I met the [new Eastern Michigan] coach for the first time and he says, 'You're my quarterback, you're my guy.'
"And that was my opportunity."
Drafted by Detroit in 1998, he returned to Pittsburgh with the Steelers four seasons later.
"Not that many people are in the situation I'm in, being this close to home and playing professional football," said Mr. Batch, who shares his Franklin Park house with two well-trained bichon frise dogs but often crashes at his mother's house in Homestead.
So much about the foundation's work is about building trust with young people. The 7-year-old CHUCK basketball league is about more than games at the Homestead playground on 16th Avenue. Bad behavior is just not tolerated, and everyone, from the little tykes to the big-name high school players, is expected to show some respect.
Mr. Batch noted that the only time they've had to break up a fight at the CHUCK league involved two young teen girls arguing over a guy.
"I said, 'Don't bring that into the playground. I know who you are, who your parents are,' " Ms. Settles said.
Best of the Batch is working toward more education-based opportunities, such as the computer lab project. It's nice to give kids school supplies and backpacks, but even better to go beyond one-shot deals.
"One of the things I try not to do in children's lives is create false promises. If I set out to do something, I try to do it on a consecutive basis, year after year.
"So many things in their lives are just taken away," Mr. Batch said.
Sure, it's a lot of work, he said, but he isn't doing it alone.
"I have a lot of family and friends to help me out. I don't do this by myself. They do a lot of the legwork and behind-the-scenes work that ultimately, I get the rewards and recognition for."
He's a realist about playing football.
"I'm not going to play another 10 years," he said, but then he has a lot besides football on his plate.
"I think the good part is, I have a lot of options."