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Steelers fans get to live out their fantasies

| Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Youngwood's Franz Filicky and his son, Stephen, joke about the many football-related mementos that Franz has collected from the Steelers Men's Fantasy Camp, which both have attended at St. Vincent College in Latrobe for the past five years.

Being 56 years old, Franz puffs out his chest a bit and brags that he's won a few skills competitions over the years, his powerful kicking leg netting a football autographed by Hines Ward and an authentic helmet bearing the signature of Ben Roethlisberger.

Stephen Filicky can only laugh and shrug his shoulders — and point out that one day the awards will be his, anyway.

"I have won some of the events, and he was getting harassed by some of the other guys, with them asking, 'What do you think about your dad winning and you not?' " Franz said. "He just said, 'They're going to end up being mine someday, anyway.' I guess he's expecting them to be passed down to him."

Around 260 campers descended on St. Vincent on Friday, June 3 for the ninth annual gathering of weekend warriors. This year's event featured entrants from 34 states and four countries, with one camper traveling all the way from Ukraine.

After a welcome reception Friday night, Saturday included morning and afternoon practices, where campers worked through six stations and received instruction from a host of former Steelers.

Bubby Brister, Jason Gildon, Delton Hall, Justin Hartwig, Louis Lipps, Josh Miller and Keith Willis were all on hand. So were radio voices Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley.

The highlight of the weekend was a Saturday night program that featured Steelers legend Jack Ham as the keynote speaker before camp concluded with a pair of church services and a skills competition on Sunday morning.

"It's just a great time of fellowship with a bunch of Steeler maniacs," Ilkin said. "They love their Steelers, and these are the guys that make Steelers Nation what it is.

"To be able to hang out with them for three days and share stories, coach 'em up in some football, talk about old times and see your old teammates and old buddies, it's just a great time."

For $629, campers received personalized jerseys, stamp-autographed footballs and T-shirts and hats. But the chance to rub elbows with their heroes resonated the most.

"The (former) players are real people," said Joe Sylvester, 58, an Aliquippa native who lives in Florida. "They're just like one of the guys. They'll kid with you like you used to play with them."

Another part of the attraction was the fact that those attending the camp enjoyed the same St. Vincent traditions as the Steelers have for the past 44 years. They stayed at St. Benedict Hall. They ate at the Robert S. Carey Student Center. And they practiced on Chuck Noll Field.

"That's definitely part of the allure," said Todd Smith, 33, of East Liverpool, Ohio. "You're staying in the same dorms as they are. You're eating in the same cafeteria, and you're practicing on the same field. That's really bringing it to you."

By Sunday morning, many campers were weary, especially with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees — weather very similar to what the Steelers will experience come early August, provided there's a resolution to the NFL's ongoing labor strife.

But for the Filickys, the event has grown to mean more than a weekend of football.

"My dad and I get to get away for a weekend and do this. ... It's a fun time," said Stephen Filicky, 32, who played football at Salisbury University. "After a while, that's what it comes down to. I get to spend some time with my dad — away."

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