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Students from Monessen, Brentwood huddle with Steelers QB to sign sportsmanship pledge

Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch takes questions from media after arriving at Monessen High School on Tuesday, September 4, 2012.

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Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Good sportsmanship is being practiced as much as football at Monessen and Brentwood school districts.

Officials say they hope a positive football game between the teams on Friday in Brentwood will be the result.

Brentwood and Monessen students, districts and communities have been working together for much of the year after an apparent racial incident at a basketball game on Feb. 3. The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League directed the districts to formulate a plan to promote sportsmanship and prevent the use of racial slurs and intimidation.

“We just wanted to make sure that this doesn't occur any longer,” Monessen Superintendent Linda Marcolini said of the ill feeling that marred the basketball game.

An assembly at Monessen on Tuesday kicked off the district's Sportsmanship, Dignity and Respect campaign, during which students from both schools asked their classmates to sign a pledge to improve their behavior and be respectful. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch has been a supporting figure in the schools' work through UPMC's Dignity and Respect Campaign. He spoke at Tuesday's assembly.

“If you're able to (sign the pledge), everything will change,” Batch told the students.

At the Feb. 3 basketball game, two students reportedly wore banana suits and ran on the court during the game. Monessen parents reported the use of racial insults, but the WPIAL took no action after a three-hour hearing on the matter, stating that Brentwood swiftly took care of the incident by ejecting and suspending the costumed students.

Outside of the assembly, Batch said the WPIAL asked him to be part of helping to break down barriers between the students and communities.

“I will be here to support you all as long as possible along the way,” Batch said he told the group of a dozen students — six from each district.

The students presented several behavior modifications Tuesday during the assembly.

“We hope to fit the example for them,” said Monessen junior Lauren Perry, one of the presenters.

Brentwood had a similar assembly in May, and Brentwood sophomore Sydney Luther said the student group has discussed ways to bring the communities together, not just the students. Brentwood High School Principal Jason Olexa and Monessen High School Principal Brian Sutherland said they were pleased with the progress.

“This has been a fantastic experience for students from both schools,” Olexa said. “It really wasn't a big difference between the two communities.”After the WPIAL's decision, the districts met with a consultant to formulate a model for other districts to follow if a similar situation arises, Marcolini said. Students volunteered to be leaders for their peers, she said.

Other community leaders assisted in the districts' conversation, including a representative from the U.S. Attorney's Office and mayors of the respective communities.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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