Heinz Field was the home of football on Sunday, but it was a little different than what Steelers fans are used to on a fall Sunday afternoon.
The Steelers hosted the championship tournament for the Girls Flag Football League, which they helped create for high school girls this year, at Ambridge, Ellis School, Moon, North Allegheny, Shaler and West Allegheny High Schools and Steelers Pat Freiermuth and Derek Watt on hand to cheer them on and hand out championship prizes.
It was Shaler Area High School that emerged victorious, beating Moon 1-0 in double overtime on the same field the Steelers play.
“It’s surreal. Words really can’t describe these things,” said Robby Heinrich, coach at Shaler Area High School. “For the girls to come down…the opportunity to play at Heinz Field is amazing. It’s a great time. You really can’t describe it. To see these girls come down and be a part of history. Starting something is about taking off in the next few years and generations after them. You are creating a ripple effect right now. They start a foundation for girls they won’t even meet. But in 10-15 years it will be come back and be amazing.
“I tell the girls all the time that it’s more about the memories than the win. The championship today is more of a capstone than anything else. It’s more or less about how close we grew as a family, all the memories we had, the memories we made on the field. This will stay forever. This trophy will dust, but the memories will last forever for these children.
For the girls who are used to playing the games in much smaller venues, playing at Heinz Field was life changing.
“From the second we left the field it was unreal. I’ve never been to Heinz Field before so it was incredible to be on the field,” said Shaler’s Hannah Warren. “The family we’ve created. The girls on my team, we’ve all become so close, we love each other very much, we support each other 24/7. Of course, the coach always gives us the best advice possible, no matter how angry , sad, happy we are.
“The game was down to the brim. We’re the team that’s always the underdog. It was unreal to make it to that level.
This pilot season for the league, while victory is always a goal, as the winning team said, it’s been about memories, relationships and more.
“It’s 100 percent more than just winning,” said Mike Marchinsky, the Steelers’ youth football and player relations manager, who also happens to be the coach of the West Allegheny team. “I’ve always said that. As you age, the pressure and desire to win increases. And I get that, especially at the high school level. But I told my team from day 1, I don’t care if we score 60 points or we drop 60 points. I don’t care if we win or lose. Our two goals are to have fun and to learn something. When they come out and learn to compete, learn the pieces, have fun and smile after every game, there’s definitely more to it than just winning.
“One of the things that we try to do even at a youth level when we have our camps and clinics is to teach the kids that it’s okay to want to win and get angry when you lose, but it’s more about teaching the game situation, knowing what you have to do to win, knowing you have to save it, or the conversion attempts to get the ball back. Those are all things that a lot of these girls haven’t learned before. To me, it teaches them the different parts of the game so they can improve and get better.”