By Teresa Varley
The popcorn was plentiful, the smiles were ever present, but the most important thing was the message delivered to the 150 kids from various Boys & Girls Clubs in Western Pennsylvania who attended a screening of "The Express," based on the true story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.
"If there is one thing I want you to take from today it's that you can persevere through any obstacle and overcome it," Max Starks told the kids as they sat in the theater.
Ernie Davis was the driving force behind Syracuse's first championship in 1960, making an impact during a time of racial unrest. He was drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the first pick in 1962, but his life was tragically cut short by leukemia before he had the chance to play in the NFL. Despite it all, he stayed positive and never quit on his dreams.
"If you keep your mind to it anything is possible," said fullback Carey Davis. "As long as you stay focused and do the right thing anything can happen. Never give up. If you have a goal you have to keep on working toward it and keep fighting for it."
The movie screening, which took place at the SouthSide Works Cinema, was a part of "NFL Day at the Movies." Steelers players, including Davis, Starks, Santonio Holmes, Anthony Madison and Grant Mason, talked with the kids and signed autographs for them before watching the movie together.
"It's very good to get out here and do this," said Holmes. "They see we are normal people. We like to take the time out to show the kids what we are really like in person. I never had a chance to do this back where I was from. We never had those kinds of opportunities.
"This is important. They see us out here, but they also learn a good lesson. It helps them understand others are dealing with some of the same obstacles they are going through that they still persevere."
The kids who attended the movie came from some of the tougher, inner city areas that the Boys & Girls Club serve and the impact of being able to learn a lesson from the movie and the Steelers is something that will stay with them.
"For the kids to be able to walk up to a professional athlete, look into their eyes and see a human being that cares about them, that's what it is all about," said Mike Hepler, president of the Western Pa. Boys & Girls Club. "You reach out to the kids, pull them off the street and provide them with something that is going to make their world a little better place.
"As an agency we try to do so much, but we can't reach our goals without organizations like the Pittsburgh Steelers. For them to go out of their way and do something like this means the world to these children. It's a great thing. The Steelers realize the significance of their role in the community and the impact they can have on young people."