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May 28, 2014

Former Steelers quarterback inspires students

NEW CASTLE — A failure and a death made Charlie Batch what he is today.

The former NFL quarterback told 450 students at Wilmington Middle School Tuesday that his reaction to failing sixth grade and experiencing the murder of his younger sister have determined the direction of his life.

In both these events, “If I did what I wanted to do, you would have never heard of me. I would be sitting in a jail cell,” the former Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions team member said.

Instead, Batch, 39, a native of Homestead, Pa., racked up 15 seasons as a professional football player, and today runs a foundation to help youth.

The most pivotal incident of his youth, Batch said, was when his mother made him quit the football team and go to summer school because he had failed sixth grade.

He said the pain of having to study while watching his former teammates practice for the season turned him from being a “class clown” who only cared about fitting in and being “cool” to a student who knew the value of education.

“Sports and education go hand in hand.” he said. “If you don’t handle it in the classroom, you will never see the sports field.”

He urged them to pay attention to academics, noting he had seen players fail because they could not read well enough to understand the football playbook.

As an adult and NFL player, Batch was stunned by the death of his 17-year-old sister, Danielle, who was caught in the crossfire of rival gang members.

He said making sense of her death ultimately made him decide to give back to his home community.

“People said to me, ‘I can’t believe you are giving back to the community that took the life of your sister,’” Batch recalled. But he explained to them he is trying to help the youth of Homestead because “your mad is different from my mad.”

“I am out making a difference,” said Batch who has a degree in criminal justice.

In 1999, he founded the Best of the Batch Foundation, which touches 2,300 children annually. It is dedicated to improving the lives of children and families in distressed communities of southwest Pennsylvania.

The foundation couples sports and learning, upgrades basketball courts and football fields, and gives scholarships.

Batch told the students he experienced bullying as a youth because of his bi-racial ancestry and unusual skin complexion.

He said back then, he wasn’t one of the bigger students or the most athletic and had no idea that one day he would be in the NFL.

“I didn’t even get voted most athletic in my high school,” he said.

He joked he can’t even run and said the longest run of his career was a 24-yard sprint in 2010 against Tampa Bay.

Batch lauded his single mother, Lynne Settles, as the major influence on his life. He described her as “loving, caring, beautiful” and said she struggled to be both mother and father to him after his father left.

Batch also was scheduled to also talk to 500 district high school students Tuesday. His presentation was as national spokesman for the UPMC-sponsored “Dignity and Respect Campaign for Youth” which promotes positive behaviors in students.

(Email: grzebieniak@ncnewsonline.com)

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