By Teresa Varley
The look on the faces of the kids at the Steel Valley Salvation Army was all that was needed. No words needed to be spoken by them and for awhile, they were somewhat speechless. It was the smiles that said it all.
"I was one of these kids," said Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch. "To see them walk into the door and participate in this is great. It's exciting. The thanks you get are the smiles that you see."
It didn't take long, though, for the kids to come to life. And it's no wonder.
A simple room at the place where they go for daily activities was transformed into a Steelers Youth Fitness Zone thanks to a partnership between the Steelers and United Way, along with the Salvation Army and STRIVE as a part of the 10th Annual NFL/United Way Hometown Huddle.
The walls were painted gold with black stripes to mimic those on Steelers jerseys. Banners hung throughout the room. There was workout equipment, the same kind that the Steelers have in their weight room. There were games to test agility and reaction and video games that require physical activity as opposed to just clicking the buttons on the game controllers as the idea is to encourage kids to be healthy and active.
And introducing it all to the kids were Batch and the team's Rookie Club, which includes the team's 2008 rookies, all who left their hand print and signature on a black wall with gold paint as a memory for the kids.
"This is really wonderful," said Major Robert Reel of the Salvation Army. "These children come down here after school for tutoring and exercise and various programs. Now they are able to come down for something like this. It's awesome. It's beautiful. It's one thing to have all of this wonderful equipment, but the bonus is they get to meet all of these wonderful Steelers. They will be talking about this for months, weeks and years."
For Batch it was a little extra special to take part because the Salvation Army location was right in the heart of his hometown of Homestead, Pa.
"This is great," said Batch. "This is a place where I played growing up. This is the only place that people could come. It's come a long way. To be able to come back and partner and do this in my hometown is great. I know the kids will benefit. I am glad I am able to do my part and continue to give back."
The players spent time teaching the kids how to use the different machines, including the weights, box hockey, Dance Dance Revolution, Heavy Ball and 3 Kick, a machine which gives a full body workout while having fun.
"It's always good to come back to your roots like when you were a kid and play games and hang out and have a good time," said offensive tackle Tony Hills, who mastered Heavy Ball with the high score. "This was a lot of fun. To see these kids being able to have this facility, hopefully it will encourage them and empower them to want to do better in their lives."
While the kids had a wonderful time and enjoyed the new equipment, it was hard to tell if it was them or the Steelers who were having more fun as their competitive nature started to take over going against each other after the kids had their chance.
"I think the most popular game was the dance game," said wide receiver Limas Sweed, who spent time working with kids on the proper techniques on the weight equipment. "Guys are going back and forth trying to beat each other. I didn't do too well. I had on Crocs. Crocs didn't do too well with dance."
A few minutes later, Sweed changed his mind.
"It's this game that is the one," said Sweed of 3 Kick. "Guys are really competing. It's about the kids, though. To see the kids out here having fun brings us back to our childhood. To come here and give back to these kids is cool."