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Homestead native Batch's foundation crowns champs on the court, in life

| Monday, July 22, 2013, 10:41 a.m.
Norma Kutscher | Daily News
Charlie Batch was a referee for the girls 7-10 championship game between Storm, in white jerseys, and Mystic.
Norma Kutscher | Daily News
Homestead Mayor Betty Esper cools off between games Saturday with shaved ice from a concessionaire at Project CHUCK's 12th annual basketball league championships.

Project CHUCK, an annual summer basketball program sponsored by the Best of the Batch Foundation, crowned its champions Saturday at the Charlie Batch Sixteenth Avenue Playground in Homestead.

Six games — two for the girls, four for the boys — capped eight weeks of competition.

The champions received a trophy and a team picture with Batch, the Steelers quarterback who has used his good fortune to benefit youth in his native Homestead.

All participants in the championship round received medals.

“It's exciting,” Batch said. “I see the smiles on the kids' and parents' faces. This is what it's about. They want to play for the championship throughout the summer. At the same time it's almost bittersweet because this is the end.”

More than 350 Western Pennsylvania kids ages 7 through 18 played for 32 teams during the season.

Project CHUCK — which stands for Continuously Helping Uplift Community Kids — is much more than just a basketball program. It focuses on building discipline, self-confidence, team skills, sportsmanship, and has a strong educational element.

“We incorporate our summer reading program into this program,” Batch said. “Each kid who participates must read a book, and attend four mandatory study sessions throughout the summer. (Sessions) are one hour before they play their game.”

Program administrators challenge the young players' comprehension with questions about the material.

“We're just making sure that we keep it fun and interactive. It keeps them paying attention to a book through the summer,” Batch said. “This is our way of using sports to draw the kids in, but at the same time we're able to implement any educational component that we choose.”

Project CHUCK has had a lot of positive results in its 12 years.

“The crime rate is down and the grades are up,” Batch said. “Each kid who participates in this program needs a 2.2 (GPA) to play. We're making sure that we hold them accountable. You have to earn the right to play in the basketball league. We want to make sure that we keep all the parents involved and participating so that everyone knows exactly where their kids are.”

The second girls championship game of the afternoon was dominated by Tamarrow Thomas, 14, of Homestead; Kayiera Sirmons, 12, of Homewood; and Taylor Hall, 15, of Wilkinsburg. They led their team to a 27-1 victory.

“I met some good people here,” said Tamarrow, who participated for the first time this year. “There's nothing else for me to do in the summer and I like basketball. We have good coaches.”

Kayiera and Taylor, in their fifth and second years, respectivly, with Project CHUCK, echoed their teammate's sentiments.

“I've improved on my skills in shooting and passing.” she said, “I've had great coaches and my teammates are very nice,”

“It was a good experience,” Taylor said. “I learned how to be a leader and play as a team, not just by myself. I've been playing basketball since I was in the fourth-grade and my coach works with my mom. She thought it would be a good idea that I play basketball. I'll be sure to come back next year.”

Jason J. Schmidt of McKeesport coached his son Jason F. Schmidt, 13, and daughter Brianna Schmidt, 8, in the family's second year in the program.

Their teams did not make it to the championships, but they said they enjoyed playing and learning.

“We heard it through word-of-mouth, and I wanted to involve them with more than just people in McKeesport,” Jason J. Schmidt said. “It's rewarding because you get to see them get better and interact with different kids from different school districts.

“This program is very good because they include the study halls. They really emphasis education and that's a very good thing.

“I've heard stories of how they're finding some kids who can't read at 8 and 9 years old and they're able to help them out through these mandatory study halls.”

Best of the Batch is sponsored by Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Eat'n Park, UPMC Health Plan, Dick's Sporting Goods, Costco, Dunkin Donuts, State Farm and GNC.

Project CHUCK is one of the foundation's many programs. It is sending 16 student athletes to the Junior Olympics in Greensburg, N.C. on Tuesday through its Next Level Athletics track program.

More information about the foundation is available online at www.batchfoundation.org.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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