There was a time when Charlie Batch couldn't bring himself to drive down West Street in Pittsburgh's Homestead neighborhood because of the pain that welled up inside him every time he did.
West Street isn't unfamiliar territory mind you. West Street is home to Charlie Batch. It leads through his old neighborhood, to his mother's house and takes him by the football field where his road to the NFL began.
For the past 10 years, West Street has been home to Best of the Batch, the educational foundation of the Steelers' veteran quarterback. It's a place where kids go to learn at what they call The Charlie Batch School, where they can work at one of 26 computer stations and where they play basketball, protected from the danger on neighboring streets.
But located in the same area, Homestead Cemetery sits on 22nd Street, an intersection Charlie Batch must pass through when he travels to his mother's home from practice.
It's the plot of land where his sister has been buried for the past 16 years and a cemetery that for a time, he couldn't bring himself to pass by without all of the anger associated with his sister's murder resurfacing from the depths where Danyl Lynn Settles' memory was once buried deep inside Charlie Batch.
Perhaps it seems strange that one street could evoke so many emotions. But it's here on West Street where Charlie Batch's heart lies. It's here in Homestead, where Batch -- now preparing for his 14th NFL season -- works to keep families from experiencing the kind of pain that delivered a blindside hit like he's never felt before. It's a life-changing hit that came 16 years ago when the phone rang in Batch's college apartment 300 miles away.
The hit is long healed, but one that Charlie Batch still lives with every day of his life.
First there was dead silence on the other end of the call.
"Charlie," Lynn Settles told her son on that February night in 1996. "You've got to come home."
Batch -- then a junior at Eastern Michigan -- was willing to make the trip back to Pennsylvania if needed, but not without an explanation.
"Before I get on the road for five hours, you've got to tell me why I'm coming home," Batch told his mother.
Batch figured something was wrong, but the kind of wrong that was painful to hear, but not at all life-altering.
Then, he heard his mother swallow hard.
Batch braced himself for a dose of hard reality not expecting to hear what followed. Maybe, his mother had called to say that one of his older loved ones -- a grandmother, a grandfather -- had passed.
"I would never in a million years think she was going to tell me my sister had been shot and killed," Batch said.
Danyl was only a month past her 17th birthday. According to reports, Settles -- then a junior at Steel Valley High School -- was shot while walking down an alley between West and Amity streets with her boyfriend.
In a coroner's hearing, John "Fitty" Payne testified that he and Danyl were distracted by a noise by a fence. They stopped, looked and saw two men wearing hoods.
Payne said he didn't see the faces of the men, but recognized the voice of one of the assailants.
According to testimony, Rico Carter, then 21, yelled, "Fitty Loke," a disparaging term used commonly by street gangs.
Danyl was shot in the head, an innocent victim of rival gangs, the Easties and the Westies, in Homestead.
Over the next 20 days in Homestead, seven more people -- all males in their late teens and 20 -- were shot.
A police informant who insisted gunfire had been returned following the shot that killed Danyl contradicted Payne's testimony.
Police believed two informants witnessed the gunfire, but when they couldn't produce a second witness to testify, the homicide charges against Carter were dismissed.
The crime, to this day, remains unsolved.
It's a case that, deep down, still bothers Jimmy Cvetic to the core.
The former Allegheny County homicide detective now runs a boxing program at 3rd Avenue Gym in Pittsburgh, where he works with under-privileged youth.
Cvetic was the detective that handled Danyl's murder and who took partial blame for no one ever being convicted of the crime. Cvetic, who retired in 2001, became a key witness in Carter's case when he failed to identify who the second informant was, delivering a serious blow to the prosecutor's case.
Cvetic, who carried Danyl's photo around as a reminder for years, wondered if anything positive would come from the unsolved murder.
Thanks to Batch, he says, something has. Although Cvetic still struggles with how the case ended without resolution, he is amazed at how Batch has taken his sister's death and cultivated it into a living tribute.
"That's a heavy weight and a heavy load to carry," Cvetic says. "But he's from the community and he's given back. It's kind of tending your own plot -- if everyone did that, if everyone weeded their garden and watered it, you'd have beauty.
"The goodness that came out of (Danyl's murder) is definitely beautiful."
The night of the shooting, Dan Henson's phone rang. It was almost midnight. Charlie Batch was on the other end of the call.
Henson, then Eastern Michigan's offensive coordinator, heard his quarterback sobbing. He told him to stay put.
Earlier in his coaching career, Henson -- the father of former NFL quarterback Drew Henson -- had received sage advice from one of his mentors: Players don't care what you know about football until they know you care about them.
Dan Henson knew this night was his opportunity.
"It was one of those times when it had nothing to do with football," Henson says. "We just had to be there."
When he reached Batch's apartment, Henson grabbed Batch and held him. The sobbing continued. There wasn't much Henson could say so he just listened.
"I gotta go home, I gotta quit, I gotta go help my family," Batch said that night.
Henson, who spent most of that night in Batch's apartment with his son Drew and his quarterback Charlie, insisted now was not the time to make any rash decisions.
Batch returned to Homestead the next day. By the time he arrived, the homicide unit had cleaned up the crime scene. It wasn't uncommon for Batch to come home on a Friday night and not see his sister until the next morning.
One day passed. Two days passed. The reality of the situation still hadn't hit home for Charlie.
"At some point, she's going to walk home and she's going to be in her bedroom," Batch told himself. "This is just a nightmare.
"When I wake up, she's going to be there."
The next few days, nothing changed. Even as funeral preparations went on, Batch held out hope he'd see his sister again. It wasn't until right before his sister's wake when Batch realized she was gone.
"At the beginning of the wake, when it's just family only, you see her lying there," Batch says. That's when you say, 'OK, this is for real.'"
Batch had been the man of the house after his father left when he was 11. Now, he had to decide whether he would remain in Pittsburgh to be there for his mother and younger brother, Vernon, or if he would return to Eastern Michigan to finish his college career and graduate.
Henson called almost every day for the next week, tag-teaming with Lynn Settles, urging Batch to return to school, telling him that's what Danyl would have wanted.
Batch wasn't convinced.
"It definitely crossed my mind to say, 'OK, maybe I'm not going back," Batch says.
Lynn Settles reminded her son how close he was to graduating. Henson kept calling, too. His message was always the same: You need to come back -- not to make the football team better, but to make Batch a better person.
"When you're having that conversation, you don't see that at the time because you've got so much anger built up," Batch says. "All he was trying to do was get me back on campus.
"It almost turned into another recruiting trip because it was one of those things where I wasn't motivated to come back at the time."
Batch returned, believing he was making the right decision, determined to somehow move on with his life. Henson knew his quarterback would need time to grieve. But once Batch returned to campus, Henson sensed an inner strength within Charlie, who knew he had come back to Eastern Michigan with his family's blessing.
Batch used football as a motivator, hoping to attract NFL scouts with a monster senior season. Once uninspired by early-morning workouts, the 6 a.m. weight room sessions distracted Batch from his pain, keeping him focused on what he could achieve if he could just reach the NFL.
Batch finished his career by establishing Eastern Michigan records for total offensive yards, single-season offensive yards, career passing yards and career touchdown passes.
Over that final year, Batch found himself a regular visitor to Henson's office. The two spent hours talking, establishing the kind of father-son relationship that had eluded Batch for much of his life.
Even then, Henson knew Charlie could do something special.
"For Charlie, it wasn't just about playing football and making some money," Henson says. "Some guys have a foundation, but they really don't do it. Charlie did it.
"But Charlie Batch is fiercely loyal -- to his community, to anyone who ever gave him a shake, he's fiercely loyal."
After graduating with a degree in criminal justice, Batch was selected in the second round of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
It wasn't long before he began to formulate a plan to establish a meaningful tribute to his sister's memory.
Without knowing he would eventually land home with the Steelers four years into his career, Batch wanted his foundation to be Pittsburgh-based, serving the Homestead neighborhood.
Batch found himself working with kids who weren't born when Danyl was shot. He wanted them to know what kind of danger awaited them on the streets, but struggled to use his sister as an example.
But even if the kids didn't know about Batch's past, their parents did. They remembered back to when seven shootings took place in 20 days and they remembered the night when Danyl lost her life to the kind of violence Batch was trying now to protect a new generation from.
Batch uses his past as the basis for his message.
"I tell kids that I've walked in the same shoes you do, I grew up on the same street you did," Batch says. "And if you don't believe it, go home and ask your parents because they remember.
"They were growing up the same time as my sister."
The memory of his sister inspired the formation of Best of the Batch.
From the start, Batch was clear on one thing: His work in the community would be centered in the neighborhood Danyl was murdered. Not only would the foundation's efforts honor his sister's memory, but it gave residents a sense that Batch knew what it's like to live in Homestead.
Every time, Danyl's murder was mentioned, residents had a direct tie to the case because Batch was working in the community, finally at peace after years of struggling to deal with his sister's death.
When families dealt with death -- especially that produced on Homestead's streets -- they found an ally in the Steelers' quarterback and Batch made sure people knew he was here for them.
"I would never want another family to feel the way that we did," Batch says.
Batch's work began with a summertime basketball league in 2002, drawing kids to a playground that's now named after Batch four nights a week.
But unlike other leagues, there are requirements for kids to participate. Kids must maintain a 2.2 grade point average to play, but they also must read a book and must participate in work-study sessions.
The basketball league is only the beginning.
At the start of each school year, Batch hand-delivers backpacks filled with school supplies to kindergartners. He travels to area schools, greeting teachers with paper and pencils and classroom supplies they might not otherwise have.
With every kid he comes in contact, Batch hands out the number to his cell phone, telling youngsters if there is anything they ever need or if they just need, just to call.
"Heck, that just shows you he cares," said Kevin Walsh, the principal at Steel Valley Middle School. "If someone's going to hand out their cell number to everybody in the community, that's someone that's very open and willing to assist.
"It's not like he's giving out a number and he's far away -- he's here."
For the past five years, Batch has taken about 90 students to a day trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Like with the basketball league, there are stipulations to make the trip, requiring students maintain good grades and behave in school.
Between the basketball league and the opportunities he provides to students during the school year, Batch offers hope to kids that otherwise, may fall through the cracks.
"That's what it's all about," Batch says. "If I can give them hope and light and help them realize their dream, that's what I want to do."
Terrelle Pryor could have been one of those kids.
Pryor, now the Oakland Raiders' back-up quarterback, was 14 when he first met Charlie Batch. They were family, connected after Batch's brother married one of Pryor's cousins.
Pryor grew up in Homestead, often walking the same streets Batch had as a kid. Without fully knowing or understanding Batch's history with Homestead at the time, Pryor was well acquainted with the trouble that could find you if you wandered into an area of town you knew you shouldn't.
Pryor grew up in the projects where drive-by shootings and other activity were common.
"It's tough out there," Pryor says in a phone interview with ThePostGame. "You're growing up with kids who don't really have money and they see guys driving by in flashy cars and they have jewelry on and those kids want that stuff.
"So it's easy to take a turn and maybe jump on with the older guys selling drugs on the street for them just to get something nice."
Pryor's grandmother was aware of Batch's work and encouraged Terrelle to visit the summer basketball league. At the time, Pryor played AAU with DeJuan Blair, who went on to be an All-American at Pitt and who now plays for the NBA's San Antonio Spurs. The team also included D.J. Kennedy and Herb Pope and Batch's summer league gave Pryor and his friends a place to play.
But it also forged a relationship between a pair of quarterbacks. Batch had helped Pryor's family out in the past, providing clothes for Terrelle and guiding him through some of life's tougher decisions.
Batch became instrumental in helping Pryor sift through the heavy load of college offers he had coming out of nearby Jeannette High School. He accompanied Pryor on campus visits to Ohio State and Michigan, telling the star quarterbacks that these were business trips -- not an opportunity to go off for a good time with his friends.
At the time, Pryor didn't grasp what getting help from Batch meant. Now, he sees the relationship as invaluable.
Pryor, who left Ohio State after an NCAA scandal that involved him accepting cash for signed merchandise and memorabilia, says Batch stuck with him through tough times.
Pryor said Batch offered to help his family, which was struggling at the time Pryor was playing for the Buckeyes. Pryor says his mother couldn't afford to pay the electric bill and that the house where she lived with Pryor's sister was only heated when they turned the heat on.
Pryor claims he used the $3,000 from selling signed helmets and other merchandise was used to assist his family.
Batch again offered to help. But by that time, Pryor figured he was too old to ask for Batch's help.
"I didn't really want to call him -- now, looking back, maybe I should have," Pryor says. "I should have done that instead of taking things into my own hands and doing stuff I thought was right at the time.
"But (Batch) was there for me step by step."
Pryor says his past taught him lessons that he hopes will lead to a successful NFL career. Following Batch's example, Pryor plans to use some of his fame to pay back the community where he and Batch both call home.
He plans on using Batch's work in the community as a roadmap.
"I know it's a foundation and you get money back, but it's bigger than that," Pryor says. "He's creating something."
The creation of Batch's community footprint hasn't been without effort. During the past 10 years and inspired by his sister's death, Batch has found a way has built trust with the kids who find their way into his foundation's headquarters.
The center also houses an alternative school program that reaches out to at-risk middle school and high school students, providing educational services to those who without assistance may find the trouble the streets offer.
And at every event, in every program, Batch is a willing and active participant.
"If his name is on it, he's there -- it's not just that people use his name," principal Walsh says. "Charlie's a hands-on person and he's been very good for this district."
Batch routinely visits schools, checking report cards, making certain that the kids who play in his basketball camp are holding up their end of the bargain.
From the 26 computer labs at his foundation to the basketball leagues and football camp Batch runs, the foundation is offering kids a place to go that didn't exist back when Danyl was shot.
Batch sees the smiles on kids' faces and they renew the memories of his sister that for years faded. His work the community sometimes requires long hours, taking Batch from practice to the foundation's headquarters.
Often, a day that began in the early-morning hours ends with Batch returning home at 11 p.m.
At times, Batch contemplates whether he's got the energy to keep going with everything he's involved in.
But that's when the image of those smiles pop into his head and he remembers why he puts in the work on West Street that he does.
"You see those smiles and you say, 'You know what -- it's worth getting up every day and doing the exact same thing,'" Batch says. "You look at a kid who was 7 (when the foundation began) whose now 17 and you realize that kid has had something to do for the past 10 years."
That's when everything hits home. In those faces, in those kids' lives, in that place where Batch is not the Steelers' quarterback, but where he's "Just Charlie," Batch finds peace.
At that center on West Street, Batch sees kids who dream of growing up to play for the Steelers. The fact he's still playing -- having recently signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh -- gives kids hope that they, like him, can realize their dreams.
But Batch also reminds them it's not going to be easy. It's why, Batch tells them, why they have to stay in school and why they have to keep their grades up and why they need to work hard to avoid the temptations that come on the streets.
At the end of the day, Batch reflects on his life's work in his hometown. It's also when he remembers his sister.
It's then when he understands why he can drive to his mother's house, past that cemetery where Danyl is buried and why he started pouring his life into West Street in the first place.
Former detective Cvetic, for one, is happy Batch followed his heart back to Homestead.
"Charlie Batch has done wonderful things," Cvetic says. "If there were more Charlie Batches in the world, the world would be a be a better place."
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