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Batch, Gradkowski get special honor

Two former Steelers will be among those inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame on Saturday, June 1, when Charlie Batch and Bruce Gradkowski are enshrined as members of the Class of 2019.

The WPIAL Hall of Fame, which was created in 2007, recognizes the best high school athletes, coaches and contributors in Western Pennsylvania history.

Batch played at Steel Valley High School where he was a two-year starter and led the team to a No. 1 ranking and to the WPIAL Class AA semifinals his senior year.

"It's exciting for sure," said Batch. "When you are playing high school football that is not the final thought you have, that you will go into a hall of fame. It wasn't even available at that time. As it came back around I wondered if it would ever happen. Then I received a call saying I was inducted into it and I was smiling from ear to ear."

Batch went on to play at Eastern Michigan where he was first-team All Mid-America Conference. He was selected by the Detroit Lions in the second round of 1998 NFL Draft, playing there for four seasons. In 2002 he fulfilled the dream of WPIAL football players when he signed with the Steelers as a free agent, where he spent 11 seasons and was part of two Super Bowl championship teams.

"Being so close to the Steelers facility this is the team you always wanted to emulate," said Batch. "I always hoped that one day I would play for the Steelers. At that point in high school I was just learning the game. We had great coaches who taught us. Then I just wanted to carry on the tradition of Steel Valley High School and be one of the best to play for the school."

Gradkowski played at Seton-LaSalle High School where he threw for a then-WPIAL record 2,978 yards and 30 touchdowns his senior year, surpassing marks that had been set by Central Catholic quarterback Dan Marino, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Gradkowski also started at point guard for Seton-LaSalle's basketball team.

Gradkowski played college football at the University of Toledo, starting his sophomore season when he set a Mid-American Conference record completing 71.2% of his passes, throwing for 3,210 yards and 29 touchdowns. He led the Rockets to the MAC Championship in 2004, throwing for 3,518 yards and 27 touchdowns on the season. His senior year he was named the MVP of the GMAC Bowl.

Gradkowski was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He became the starter Week 5 of his rookie season, finishing the year with 1,661 yards passing and nine touchdowns. After his time with the Bucs he was with St. Louis, Cleveland, Oakland and Cincinnati, before coming home to sign with the Steelers in 2013, where he spent the last four years of his career.