Pittsburgh is a football town and Heinz Field the gathering place for diehard fans when the Steelers are at home.
And while the Steelers are the most popular team in town, they know they aren't the only one. There are youth and high school teams throughout the region that have as much love and passion for the game as the professionals who wear the black and gold.
The Steelers want nothing more than to see those players and teams thrive, to see the game thrive in a positive and safe manner, and that is why they have established so many youth football initiatives and support the organizations, like Wilkinsburg.
"Football is a great game. I think it's important we make sure we are supporting it at the earliest levels," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "A lot of the organizations and youth leagues need help, need support. They need educational help with concussions, and health of the players and conditioning. There is a lot we can do to help and I think over the last few years we have put a lot of effort into making sure we are providing as much support as we can."
Rooney has been a driving force behind the team's commitment to youth football, and it comes as no surprise as football has been in his blood since he was a kid.
"The Rooney family, Kevin Colbert, they are from Western Pennsylvania and as a result were born into football," said Mike Marchinsky, the Steelers youth football manager. "Them playing and having their kids play, they see it's important for the growth of the game and the growth of our fans.
"It's such a great sport. It teaches adversity, it's about overcoming obstacles, and never giving up. There are so many lessons learned."
One of the main areas the Steelers have put their focus on is player safety and a lot of it starts with educating the coaches. The team has gotten behind USA Football's Heads Up Program, which promotes coaching education and certification for equipment fitting, concussion recognition and awareness, heat and hydration, and heads up tackling. The Steelers also have provided a grant to help teams pay for training coaches, covering 50 percent of the cost.
"Our outreach is about making sure there is education for the coaches and players and making sure the game is safe," said Marchinsky. "It really comes from the Rooney family down through the entire organization because it's that important.
The Heads Up program is important because we want the game to be as safe as possible and to take the head out of the tackle. We have been successful at our camps helping the kids learn this. This year we got more kids involved in the heads up football program in training camp and they see it taught first-hand from our coaches. It's real to them. They see our guys involved in it."
The Steelers have helped set the standard as far as Heads Up Football is concerned, embracing it from the get-go and constantly finding ways to enhance the training.
"The Steelers have been extremely proactive," said Scott Hallenbeck, Executive Director of USA Football Hallenbeck. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin preaches a similar message. To have influential coaches, influential organizations rally together with us to send a common message is important. As soon as that happens we have a greater success rate of getting youth football organizations, commissioners, coaches and parents to engage.
"Some stand on the sideline and think we have done it for 100 years this way and maybe what we are doing is fine. As soon as USA Football is able to engage teams like the Steelers it immediately changes the perspective and expectation of the youth football organization. We have seen it in the Pittsburgh area. We have a number of leagues that have come on board with Heads Up Football because the Steelers are on board."
Both the WPIAL and Pittsburgh City League have now endorsed Heads Up Football and have joined coaches from around the country participating and receiving training.
"The Heads Up Program is a very important initiative for all WPIAL member schools in that the program provides a very in depth educational approach to player safety for all those interested in coaching and playing football at the high school, middle school, and youth league levels," said Tim O'Malley, Executive Director of the WPIAL. "The fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers organization has taken the lead in this initiative adds significantly to its credibility and the hope of the WPIAL is that our member schools will willingly take part in this very important and highly valuable program."
The Steelers utilize the pillars of Heads Up Football in all of their youth football clinics and camps, including activities held for youth players during training camp, and high school administrators understand that the program can have nothing but positive results for the schools that utilize it.
Check out some photos of youth football throughout the Pittsburgh community.
"The Heads Up program is a valuable tool that allows the coaches in the Pittsburgh City League to continue to be proactive in their education of concussion management," said Michael Gavlik, Director of Athletics for Pittsburgh Public Schools. "It is vital to the safety and welfare of the student athletes that play football that their coaches have at their disposal all information needed for proper concussion awareness and response protocol. Along with the skills necessary to teach our players the proper fundamentals of tackling and best practices for heat and hydration of the players, the Heads Up program encompasses all the components that enhance player safety.
"The Steelers organization has long been recognized as a leader in the football community not only in Western, PA, but the country. The fact that they are leading the way in concussion awareness with the Heads Up program is not a surprise. Their willingness to work with the local school districts and youth football organizations to ensure that our student athletes safety and welfare are at the forefront is a direct result of the passion and pride for football that the Pittsburgh Steelers have always provided to our city and region and is greatly appreciated."
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While safety is paramount, when dealing with kids you also have to make it fun. The Steelers have youth football camps that teach the fundamentals of the game, as well as Gatorade Junior Training Camps that introduce them to the basics. Current and former players participate in the camps, giving tips and providing valuable encouragement.
"We have done many of the programs since 2007 so now I am curious to see some of the growth of the kids," said Marchinsky. "As a former coach that is what I miss, taking a sophomore and developing him into a senior. We see the same kids at Gatorade Junior Training Camps, and Youth Football Camps each year and we see the growth. We have one kid who is now too old to participate and he wants to be a volunteer.
"It's rewarding to see the kids come out and enjoy all of the aspects we have." * * *Steelers Youth Football Programs
USA Football Heads Up Program –The Steelers, National Football League and USA Football are working hard to improve the safety of football at all levels, especially with youth and high school players. USA Football's Heads Up Football program is a comprehensive solution to player safety which promotes Coaching Education and Certification, Equipment Fitting, Concussion Recognition and Awareness, Heat and Hydration, and Heads Up Tackling. More than 90,000 coaches nationwide are implementing Heads Up Football in their programs across the United States. USA Football will train Player Safety Coaches for local leagues, who will then train the coaches, players and parents for only $5 per coach within the organization. Learn more at www.usafootball.com.
Don't Hit the Head, Don't Use the Head Program –In conjunction with USA Football's Heads Up Football program, the Steelers and UPMC Sports Medicine created the Don't Hit the Head, Don't Use the Head program. This joint concussion education and awareness program shows our dedication to educating football coaches and players on the steps they can take on the field to lessen the chance of head injuries, and the importance of seeking the right treatment if injuries do occur. Local youth and high school programs have received literature about concussion education and Coach Tomlin posters with the Don't Hit the Head logo. To add your youth or high school program, head to www.Steelers.com/PlaySmart.
Youth Football in Steelers Country Show on Root Sports
– A weekly show completely dedicated to the passion of youth and high school football in Western Pennsylvania, Youth Football in Steelers Country is a must watch for anyone who loves youth football. The show airs each Saturday on Root Sports at 10 a.m. and also can also be viewed on Steelers.com. The show features great weekly matchups at both levels of youth football, and selects a Coach and Player of the Week, and gives a Most Valuable Person award. This award goes to someone who has gone above and beyond and dedicated themselves to making a better team or organization.
High School Football – Each year, the Steelers host the WPIAL Championship Games at Heinz Field for a day in November. Each class champion is then hosted at a later Steelers game to honor their accomplishment.
Steelers Mom's Clinic – In April, the Steelers hold a free clinic for moms and their kids for a night of learning and fun. The goal was to educate mothers of youth football players about the increased efforts in safety in the sport and to enjoy the night with their children. During the clinic, the moms heard from a variety of speakers from USA Football, UPMC, Riddell and Jaimee Hoke, wife of former Steeler Chris Hoke. While the moms were in class, the kids went through a youth skills clinic with Chris Hoke. The moms then joined the kids and were put through drills for the Heads Up Tackling program.
**Programs for Players:
Steelers Youth Football Camps –** These two-day football camps for boys and girls ages 6-14 offer instruction by the area's best high school coaches and current and former Steelers players. Held in June and July at California University of PA, Slippery Rock University of PA and West Allegheny High School in Imperial; these non-contact camps provide instruction on every position, proper tackling, two tickets to a Steelers preseason game, Steelers Kids Club membership, camp t-shirt and more.
Steelers/USA Football Month (August) – The Steelers and USA Football celebrate the start of football during the preseason games through in-stadium banners, promos on the Daktonics video board and by inviting youth football teams to enjoy the preseason games. Youth football programs that have been involved with the Steelers Youth Football and USA Football's programs have had the opportunity to send some players to the games, many of which have never seen a game in person before. Programs that have benefitted by programs offered include Armstrong, Braddock, Hopewell, Monaca, Mt. Pleasant, North Shore, Redbank Valley, Woodland Hills and many others.
Gatorade Junior Training Camp – These non-contact camps are free youth for boys and girls 7-14, and hosted at Heinz Field during the Rib and Kickoff Festival and prior to the annual night practice during training camp outside of Latrobe Memorial Stadium. The two hour session emphasize football fun drills, and teaches skills at running back, quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back and proper tackling.
Youth Football Co-Captains – With help from Dick's Sporting Goods, the Steelers have two youth football players serve as co-captains for each home game at Heinz Field. The two players enjoy pregame hospitality, sideline passes for pregame warm-ups, and tickets to the game.
Youth Football Games at Halftime – Presented by Dick's Sporting Goods, the Steelers host four youth football games at halftime during home games. Both teams get a series from the 10-yard line in a first and goal scenario, and the crowd goes crazy when they do score. The teams also receive game programs, Terrible Towels, team photos, and an experience of a lifetime.
Youth Football Teams at Training Camp – The Steelers and Dick's Sporting Goods help celebrate Back to Football by inviting youth teams to welcome the team onto the field each day of training camp. The players, decked out in their own jerseys, make a tunnel for the players as they walk to practice.
Punt, Pass & Kick – The Steelers and the NFL continue to host the league's longest running grassroots initiative at a late season home game at Heinz Field. The Regional Championship is held at the team's indoor practice facility during the morning, and those competitors get to enjoy the game at Heinz Field and display their passing talents at halftime.
Youth Football Camp in Mexico– In April, the Steelers headed to Mexico City to host an adult and youth football camp for fans of all ages. The camp stressed proper fundamentals and some great coaches in Maurkice Pouncey, Jason Worilds, Cortez Allen, Kelvin Beachum, Markus Wheaton, Willie Parker and Craig Wolfley.
**Programs for Coaches:
Steelers Coaching Clinic** – This annual youth football coaching seminar incorporates classroom instruction, roundtable discussion, and on-field sessions with our Coach of the Week winners. In addition, coaches are educated on Health & Safety with a speaker from UPMC Concussion Program.
Steelers Strength & Conditioning Clinic –This event is designed for youth and high school coaches who are interested in learning more about training and conditioning their athletes in a safe manner, while using the latest techniques. Steelers staff members provide training and coaches are also able to visit display booths filled with the best training tools from the Steelers Training Partners.
High School Coach of the Week – Each week, a local high school coach is honored as a High School Coach of the Week. This coach has either led his team to a big victory, an upset win, or to do something special in their community. Each winner is invited to a Steelers home game and presented with a certificate, and receives a $1000 grant from the Steelers and the National Football League Foundation. A Coach of the Year is also selected, and his program receives a $2000 grant to improve his football program.