Pitt students' Bring It Back PGH campaign aims to help Sto-Rox athletes
March 4, 2016 12:00 AM
Bring It Back PGH Facebook
By Sonja Reis
An online video created by three University of Pittsburgh marketing students is helping to ensure that Sto-Rox varsity baseball and softball teams return to the field with enough basic supplies to go around.
For the first time since spring 2013, the Vikings are fielding teams. The spring program had been cut as part of the 2013-14 budget process and then reinstated last summer for 2016.
Money is tight. During the run-up to the season, which begins next week, athletes were seen sharing gloves and other essentials.
The Bring It Back PGH campaign, the brainchild of Pitt seniors Craig Bittner, Jim Fanning and Dontez Ford, was born of a social media marketing assignment. The task was to use social media to bring awareness to a school-related issue.
“We’re shooting to alleviate budget constraints. If there is a lack of funding for sports resources, then there is a lack of funding for other things,” said Mr. Bittner of Bethel Park.
Mr. Ford, a Sto-Rox alumnus and a wide receiver with the Pitt Panthers football team, shared details with his college classmates about limited academic, extracurricular and sports programming available to students in his former school district, which serves about 1,400 students from McKees Rocks and Stowe. He specifically discussed the return of baseball and softball this season with insufficient funds. The trio jumped on the chance to help.
“It was our chance to make a little bit of a difference,” Mr. Bittner said.
The video — coupled with a crowdsourcing request through GoFundMe — raised about $1,250 in the first 24 hours. Within five days, $4,125 of the $7,500 goal was raised, and the video had more than 1,800 views.
“I didn’t expect it to take off like it did,” said Ryan Kacsur, Sto-Rox athletic director.
Baseball coach Dave Rugh stresses the importance of education but also notes that for some students, the only route to college is through sports.
In the video, the narrator, Mr. Fanning of Swarthmore, Pa., states: “All across the country extracurricular activities are getting slashed and memories are fading. School districts need to choose textbooks over helmets, but student education suffers because of it. Without these programs, some kids have no reason to care about school at all. Grades and graduation rates fall …”
Mr. Ford responds, “... and so does hope. I know because it’s happening in my hometown. Looking back at my journey growing up in the Rox, I realized the importance of sports in my development as a person.”
For the past 31 years, Mr. Rugh, who is also president of McKees Rocks council, has been coaching all ages of football and baseball in the Sto-Rox area, including Mr. Ford, when he was a youngster.
“I’ve coached a lot of kids in my life. That’s the satisfaction I get out of this, seeing those kids strive in life. That’s what it’s all about, making a difference in their lives,” Mr. Rugh said.
“Thank God they did bring [baseball] back. The main thing is keeping kids off the street,” he said. Doing that “for a couple of hours could mean a lifetime to them,” he added.
Softball coach Nicole Davis is impressed with what she described as a “phenomenal” video, which will help provide what the athletes need to have a fighting chance, she said.
“Things you don’t think about. Most schools have new bats, gloves and cleats every year,” she said Ms. Davis, who was assistant softball coach at Baldwin-Whitehall for the past five years.
The Sto-Rox teams were each allotted two bats, which cost as much as $400 each, Mr. Rugh said. Other school teams may have eight or nine.
Much of the available equipment was left over from the 2013 season, but although it is certified for practice, it is not allowed to be used for game play, Mr. Kacsur said.
He hopes to use some of the project funds to fulfill some students’ need for food.
“We’ll be addressing nutrition as well,” Mr. Kacsur said. For the past four years, he was the Lady Vikings head basketball coach and is aware of the circumstances some of the students face. While they have breakfast and lunch available to them at school, he said he isn’t sure whether some have a meal available to them when they get home after a game.
“I’ve always just worried about them.” he said.
The college project was filmed and edited with the help of a company called Have Fun. Do Good. Adam Kunes of North Huntingdon is owner and founder of the company, which helps volunteers get involved in public service. Ben Petchel of Bethel Park is associated with the company.
Depending on the outcome of the Bring It Back PGH campaign, Mr. Bittner and Mr. Fanning may continue to help other school districts. Mr. Ford, who has one year of eligibility left with the Pitt Panthers and plans to play as a graduate student, may have to bow out because of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules related to fundraising. The three cleared the Sto-Rox project through the NCAA before posting the video Feb. 24.
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