What Charlie Batch found on the football field as a kid, was purpose. It’s where he found father figures in the coaches that pushed him. It’s where his mother put her foot down. And it’s where he channeled the pain of losing his sister into something good.
The retired Pittsburgh Steeler and two-time Super Bowl champion’s life’s work is firmly rooted in his economically challenged steel mill hometown of Homestead, Pa.
Off the Field
“I was seven years old when I started playing football. Every time I moved up in age to a new level, it was like being the low man on the totem pole. The coaches motivated me to stick with it. My mother pushed me and didn’t allow me to quit. She taught me that you’re not going to start something and not finish it,” he said.
But when he got to the 6th grade, it was a different lesson that would keep him off the field. Charlie explained, “School came easy, but there was a period of time it wasn’t easy. I slacked off and became a class clown. She would ask me how I was doing in school. I said I was doing great, but I really wasn’t.
At the end of the year, the guidance counselor called a group of us into her office and told us we had all failed the 6th grade. All I could think of was, ‘How am I going to tell my mom?’ A 20 minute walk home turned into an hour and a half.
I told my mom and she was smiling. I asked, ‘Why are you smiling?’ She said, “I just want to say thank you because now you cannot play football until you study and take classes. For those six weeks during the summer, while I made up the classes I failed, she made me sit there with my books and study in front of the football team while they practiced,” he said.
Charlie’s mother, Lynn Settles, had wanted him to learn something more. “She told me, “I’m not going to let you hide behind what you’re doing. You need to handle what you need to handle in the classroom.
Owning His Success
When he started 7th grade, Charlie took with him a renewed sense of purpose. He remarked, “I was excited to be back on the football field. At the same time I was mad at myself because I didn’t have the summer to enjoy. Internally it burns you inside. I was repeating something and it was nobody else’s fault but my own.
I learned to take responsibility for my own success. My mom made me realize I do have an opportunity to be successful on the football field. I had let other things distract me that I had to own up to like listening to music in study hall instead of doing my homework. So instead of having to be made to do my work, now I wanted to do it.
It was the first time I realized that sports and education went hand in hand. And it was the last time I ever failed in the classroom. I was determined that this would never again prevent me from seeing the field.”
Charlie graduated from Steel Valley High School, lettering in both football and basketball. He went on to play football at Eastern Michigan University. “Coming out of high school there were not a lot of people leaving Homestead. I didn’t like what I saw growing up. I wanted to change the environment.
I saw people going to college but they didn’t graduate. When I looked at my own inner circle nobody in my family went to college. I set a goal to be the first to graduate. There were doubters saying, “What makes you think you can do it?”
That was the challenge. I just wanted to do something that hadn’t been done. To do it, I needed to go away to college. Not a lot of people coming from Eastern Michigan went on to play pro football, so you didn’t see that kind of success there,” he said.
A Life Changing Call
During his junior year of college, Charlie received a call with devastating news from his mother. His younger sister, Danyl, had been shot and killed in an alley near their home. An innocent victim of gun violence, she was caught between the gunfire of rival gangs.
He commented, “I remember sitting on the steps of the funeral home watching the funeral procession and thinking someday I’m going to start a foundation to help prevent this from happening to someone else.”
The emotional pain made it difficult not only to go back to college, but also to return to the football field. Charlie’s coaches rallied him, though, and with their support and encouragement he made it back. He physically worked through his grief and came back stronger than ever on the field. During Charlie’s senior year, professional football scouts were coming out to see him play.
Best of the Batch Foundation
In 1998, Charlie was drafted by the Detroit Lions as the starting quarterback and one year later founded the Best of the Batch Foundation to provide financially challenged youth with resources to succeed. A call from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002 brought him home and gave new purpose to his life.
“When I got back to Pittsburgh I said, ‘This was it. Let me try to make a difference with the Foundation’. For me it was basketball. The whole goal was to tire the kids out so they’d want to go home and go to sleep. I started with 125 kids and now there are 365 kids annually and over 100 volunteers. Now it’s an eight week program going five days a week,“ he remarked.
The Best of the Batch Foundation covers a five county area and serves as a resource to school districts by providing education based programs that foster success. Its offerings include leadership, respect, tutoring, computer literacy, field trips, sports, and recreational activities impacting more than 3,000 financially challenged youth each year.
Charlie plays an active role in administering the Foundation’s programs every day from tutoring in the facility’s learning center to coaching on the basketball court. “The playground here is all about positive reinforcement. We teach that you need to expect the best for yourself. He also delivers this message to youth, college students, and organizations as a motivational speaker.
Through the Foundation’s “Batch-A Toys” program, it’s a message of love and joy that Charlie and his wife, Latasha, get to deliver on Christmas Eve, along with 5,000 toys, to one hundred economically challenged families.
“We have organizations that contact us throughout the year that will ask for help. We also work with school guidance counselors to get names of people who will be helped. All the recipients know is that an organization is adopting them as a Secret Santa,” he said.
On Saturday, December 13th, a “Wrapping Party” will be held at the Best of the Batch Foundation office in Homestead. More than 100 volunteers personally select the gifts from all that have been collected.
Charlie commented, “When the volunteers are wrapping a toy, they know, for example, that it’s going to a family with five kids. They know their names and what their ages are. The volunteer writes the child’s name on the gift. So when we get to the house, we knock on the door and say, ‘Merry Christmas from the Best of the Batch Foundation! Where’s Mikey? We’re Santa’s Elves!’ It’s fun to be able to do that.”
But the bag he drops doesn’t only contain toys. “We give each family a household item such as dishes, towels, laundry basket, or pots and pans. This started because we received a thank you letter one year that read, “Thank you for the gifts. I really appreciate the spoon. I’m now able to eat cereal.” And through a partnership with Bottom Dollar Foods, each family receives a meal,” he said.
The deliveries begin on Christmas Eve in the early afternoon and can last through 10:00 p.m. We’re bundled up in a coat and wearing a Santa hat and carrying a bag. It all happens so fast that it doesn’t register to the recipient. Then you walk away and you hear them say, “Was that Charlie?” All they know is that they are waiting for a knock on the door from a Secret Santa coming to their house,” he said.
And that’s just fine with him.
“What we do, we’re not doing for the accolades. We want to spread love. We’ve been blessed and we want to pass it along. Not everyone will have the chance to experience what it means to see a smile on someone’s face. As we receive blessings, we’re blessing someone else”, he said.
It’s takes a batch of people to create “A-Batch of Toys”. To join the cause this week visit one of the collection sites throughout the Pittsburgh area, including at the Best of the Batch Foundation in Homestead. Charlie remarked, “No matter how difficult times are, people are giving knowing they are making a difference.
When we see the recipient look out that door – we’re doing our small part. We’re spreading that love, that joy, and hopefully, we can put smiles on the faces of families.”
It’s just one of the ways Charlie honors his sister by making his community stronger. And it’s how he’s living his life “on purpose”.