Harris inducted into North Side Hall of Fame

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Former Steelers running back Franco Harris' impact on Pittsburgh's North Side began in 1972 when the number one draft pick made the most famous play in team history, the Immaculate Reception, at Three Rivers Stadium.

During his playing days he was a constant in the community, giving back continually in the neighborhood he called home.

That dedication to the North Side continues today, as Harris still maintains the same residence on the North Side he had as a player and is still involved in the community.

"It's meant a lot to me for a long time," said Harris of the North Side. "When I first came to Pittsburgh I didn't know a lot about the North Side. When I decided to move here, people said 'No, what are you doing Franco?' When I came here it was beautiful, beautiful people, kids, I loved it and enjoy it. I tell people I am a North Sider and I am proud to do that."

It's because of that commitment that Harris was inducted into the North Side Hall of Fame at the 13th Annual Gala Pittsburgh Sports Night.

"Franco was one of the first players, and one of the few players, to buy a house and live on the North Side," said Steelers President Art Rooney II, who presented Harris with the award. "He established his roots on the North Side from the very beginning. He has never forgotten about the North Side, is a member of the community, and it's overdue we give him this award."

Several of Harris' former teammates and other Steelers alumni, including Rocky Bleier, Craig Bingham, Randy Grossman, Louis Lipps, Edmund Nelson, Andy Russell and Mike Wagner, attended to honor Harris and fellow inductee, the late Fred Kienast.

"Franco gives so much back to this community," said Bleier, who played in the Steelers backfield with Harris. "He is so involved. It's not often he gets recognized for the commitments that he makes, especially to the North Side. It's a wonderful tribute for him."

The Gala Pittsburgh Sports Night began 13 years ago with the Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates teaming up to benefit Cardinal Wright Regional School, a Catholic school on the North Side.

"Catholic education has a great track record," said Rooney. "When you compare how the students do in the Catholic schools compared to some of the other school systems they're ahead of all of the other systems. It's a great program the Diocese has been running for many years and I am proud of all of the students who have been produced out of these schools."

Over the years more than $1.1 million has been raised to benefit the school and help families who struggle with paying tuition.

"It's a great reminder of the support the community and people in the North Side have for Catholic education and for our children and young people and their families," said Father Kris Stubna, Secretary for Catholic Education. "It's not easy to send your children to a Catholic school, sacrifices are needed. It shows the tremendous amount of respect and support the whole community for Catholic schools and our families, particularly those that really struggle and desire and want the Catholic education for their children. They can't do it alone.

"To me that is very important. The programs and education we have for kids are crucial to their development. With that development many things happen. To have Cardinal Wright here is important to get kids started on the right track.

The event brings in all of the Pittsburgh sports teams, with former Pirates and Penguins attending, along with student athletes from the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University and St. Vincent College.

Current Steelers players were also in attendance to lend a hand to the cause, including Chris Hoke, Trai Essex, Will Allen, Doug Legursky, Stevenson Sylvester and Jason Worilds.

"It's great to know you are coming out and helping a good cause," said Hoke. "I know right now some of these private schools are having a hard time staying afloat and to be able to do things like this to keep the schools going is good."

Harris shared stories of how he started his sports career at age eight and CYO baseball during his acceptance speech and thought that would be his future. He talked about playing at Three Rivers Stadium and finding his home on the North Side. At one point he stopped, and with true pride and appreciation, simply said, "It's not every day you get elected into the Hall of Fame."

 He also shared some valuable advice with the Cardinal Wright students and other kids in attendance.

"Everyone has their own unique talents," said Harris, who was joined by his wife Dana and son Franco Dok. "Make sure you develop your talent. All of you kids have that talent in a lot of different things. Put your time into it, try other things. When I was growing up I wanted to be a baseball player, but I didn't make it. But my talents developed in another way. Do different sports and work at different subjects in school. You might think you are good in something, but you are really smart at something else. Try different things.

"You never know where you might end up. You might be able to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers some day."

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