Batch helps Brentwood, Monessen students to overcome incident

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, May 31, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

When Brentwood and Monessen made national headlines in February after allegations of a racially charged atmosphere at a basketball game, Charlie Batch took his criticism to Twitter.

Yet, when it needed to heal the hostile relationship between schools and their respective communities, the WPIAL turned to the Steelers backup quarterback and Homestead native.

Together, under Batch's guidance, the schools launched the Sportsmanship, Dignity and Respect Campaign on Wednesday afternoon before an assembly of more than 400 at Brentwood High School.

“What these young people did the last two months,” Batch said, “is going to change the WPIAL, the region, forever.”

The schools have come a long way from their Section 3-A basketball game Feb. 3, when Monessen alleged that Brentwood fans taunted them by wearing banana costumes and using racial slurs. The WPIAL Board of Control cleared Brentwood of any specific findings of wrongdoing. “This is just another piece in the healing process between Brentwood and Monessen high schools,” Monessen principal Brian Sutherland said.

“Charlie legitimizes things, especially in the eyes of kids. He was a good icebreaker for the kids. It was crucial. When we got there the first time, none of us knew where this was going to take us.”

Batch, who serves as national spokesman for the UPMC-sponsored Dignity and Respect Campaign, met multiple times with student representatives from both schools at the WPIAL's Green Tree offices. It wasn't until he threw the administrators out of the room at one of those meetings that progress was made.

“Candidly, when the adults were in the room, the kids were tight-lipped,” WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said. “When the adults left the room, I think they got something done.”

Batch called the move a “major step,” noting that because he represents neither district the students could speak freely without worrying about consequences.

He urged them to change the perception of their parents and communities by coming up with their own solutions.

“That helped a lot,” Monessen sophomore Justice Rawlins said. “We were all shy. He told us a lot of stories about his life and that helped us share ideas.”

One of those ideas for Brentwood was to come up with the Five Good Deeds on Game Day: thank someone, clean up after yourself, pick someone up, compliment someone, and be better than everyone else.

They also are encouraging their classmates to sign a Respect and Dignity poster in the school's cafeteria and to sign the pledge with them. Each student who does will receive a blue bracelet.

Brentwood Mayor Ken Lockhart presented a proclamation that Sept. 7, when Monessen visits Brentwood in football, will be “Sportsmanship, Dignity and Respect Day” in the borough.

The teams are planning a pre-game prayer and post-game meal and want their fans to sign the pledge to gain admission.

“There was a lot of bitterness between Monessen and Brentwood,” said Sean O'Brien, a Brentwood senior who played football, basketball and track and field.

“Just meeting with them was a completely different atmosphere. It definitely changed my mind. They're normal, just like us.

“A lot is a bad reputation, but it's not as bad as it's perceived to be. A lot of people believe it was blown out of proportion — which it was — but it could be turned into a good cause.”

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