By Teresa Varley
They gathered at a place where they are used to cheering teams on, but on this day the roles were reversed. Ninth grade students from the Pittsburgh Public Schools were the ones getting plenty of support from the Steelers as they sat in the stands at Heinz Field for the kickoff of 9TH Grade Nation.
Head coach Mike Tomlin, along with Charlie Batch and Max Starks, offered their encouragement to the students who are part of the Class of 2013 and embarking on an exciting time in their lives, high school.
The students all have a great opportunity in front of them as a part of the Pittsburgh Promise, which offers college scholarships to Pittsburgh Public School students who maintain a certain grade point average. Those who meet the grade criteria would receive up to $10,000 a year toward their college education.
The students were encouraged to remain focused on their goals and not let distractions keep them from achieving their dreams.
"Ninth Grade nation – I love you guys," Tomlin told the group. "I mean that. At the same time, you are not going to have a tougher critic or coach than me. I understand the things you see, I understand the obstacles you face. But I know you can overcome all of them, and more important than that you have to overcome all of them."
That same message was echoed by Ciera Wilson, a sophomore at Robert Morris University majoring in Business Administration and Management. Wilson attended Schenley High School and is a recipient of scholarship money from the Pittsburgh Promise.
"I know what you are going through," Wilson said. "Whether you believe it or not, your mind is your most powerful tool in your possession. A lot of you might be thinking it's too early to start thinking about college, but it's never too early. It's up to each and every one of you to empower each other to develop. It's up to your generation to make a change happen. Focus on not just yourselves, but those around you."
Tomlin stressed mental toughness with the students, pointing to his brain and letting them know how important it is for them to use that, to be mentally tough.
"I know all of you have big dreams," an energetic Tomlin said. "Are you willing to do what is required to make them happen? I know you are capable, everybody out there is capable. Are you willing to do it? Are you willing to do what you know you are supposed to do when others aren't?
"Be tough. That is what true toughness is about. Our team faces challenges every week, all of them are tough. We have a tough football team. I am not talking about weightlifting tough. I am talking about this kind of tough right here (mental). This is what you have. That is the toughness you have. It's a weapon that you have to use."
Also on hand to address the students were Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, First Lady of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh Public School Superintendent Mark Roosevelt.
Photos by Mike Fabus