Former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch’s best advice for his charity basketball team Thursday night?
“They should just pass the ball to me and I’ll make all the shots,” Batch — pronounced “like a batch of cookies,” the quarterback joked — said from the bench in the Fitzgerald Field House.
Six former and current Steelers players defeated a group of student basketball players 67-60 in the third annual Pittsburgh Steelers footballers versus Pitt students charity basketball game. Proceeds from the game benefitted the Pitt Advantage Grant, which offers up to $1,500 scholarships to about 30 student applicants who have completed the Outside the Classroom Curriculum.
The Pitt College of Business Administration and the Office of Student Affairs co-sponsored the event. Melissa Warthen, associate director of the Office of Student Life, said more than 600 people bought $7 tickets for the game in advance.
“Each year, we’ve been able to grow the event,” Warthen said. In its first year, between 500 and 600 people attended the event.
Fifteen student players made up the Pitt basketball team. Students came from within and outside of Pitt Athletics, from Oakland Zoo president Ryan Foley to senior psychology major Tina Benno.
Students who arrived early to the game awaited the Steelers’ arrival and exploded with excitement when the athletes strutted in at 8 p.m. on the dot.
“I want to see a Pitt student get tackled by a Steeler,” sophomore neuroscience major Maya Phillips said.
Most audience members, including junior finance major Mike Adams, predicted the Steelers’ victory.
“The shortest guy on their team will still be at least 6 feet tall,” Adams said.
Despite making a career out of football, both Batch and wide receiver Sammie Coates played high school basketball. Although Coates said he was a mediocre player, Batch retained his signature confidence.
“I like to think I was pretty good,” Batch said. His pre-speech pep-talk was just as prideful, “We are older and more experienced than Pitt. We better win.”
The Field House was buzzing as the game got off to a slow start, with the Panthers putting the first points on the board in the first two minutes of the game.
Shortly after the Panthers took the lead, Coates showed off with a dunk that began at half court, resulting in a Steelers’ takeover in the first quarter. Steelers wide receivers Wes Lyons and Derek Moye also showed off their dunking skills — much to the crowd’s delight.
Despite their fancy footwork, the Steelers missed several opportunities for shots as the game went on, drawing ire from the student section. When the announcer joked that Batch had missed his 50th 3-pointer of the game, he fired back and said, “it was only the 49th!”
The Panthers took the lead and maintained it through the second and third quarters, until the Steelers gained 30 points in the fourth quarter to solidify the win.
Through it all, the atmosphere of the game remained light-hearted, with constant player commentary and crowd booing as loud music blared behind the announcer’s comedic play-by-play.
While cooling off after the game, Julie Fedick, a senior economics major on the Pitt team, said even though she played basketball in high school, she was excited to flex her skills, or lack thereof, against big-time athletes.
“It was fun to prove our lack of athleticism,” Fedick said, adding that she wanted to see how she “stood up to professional athletes instead of high school girls.”
At halftime, the Steelers offered autographs and pictures to a long line of eager fans. They also posed for a shot with Pitt business school seniors following the third quarter.
Although the Panthers did not prove victorious against the Steelers, avid Pitt fans still got what they wanted from the night.
“It has been my dream since childhood to meet a Steeler,” first-year biology major Ryleigh Walaconis said. “I am so jazzed that Pitt gives us amazing and unique opportunities like this to meet professional athletes.”