LEETONIA-Many die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fans filed into Leetonia High School Friday night decked out in their black and gold jerseys, excited to catch a glimpse at some players from their favorite team. For the third straight year, a charity basketball game was scheduled between current and retired Steelers players and faculty and staff from Leetonia High School as well as members of the community.
The Steelers boast one of the more devoted fan bases in the National Football League, a claim that was backed up on Friday. Although the team showed up one hour and 45 minutes late for the scheduled 8 p.m. tip-off, few if any of the fans in attendance left their seat. Many seemed just as happy to be there during the delay as when they arrived.
Nine-year-old Sydney Spencer of Austintown was in a front-row seat-Terrible Towel in hand-more than an hour before the game was scheduled to begin.
Steelers wideout Antonio Brown talks with the crown on Friday in Leetonia. (Photo by Patti Schaeffer)
"My daughter practically drug us here tonight," said Spencer's father, Bill. "She was so excited to see the Steelers. For us, it doesn't matter who shows up. It's just fun to get autographs and watch the players up close."
That sentiment was echoed by fans all across the gym.
Jay Paul of Sharon, Pa. was in attendance for the second consecutive year. By chance, he happened to be sitting with the exact same two people he took in last year's game with. The three passed the time by fondly trading memories of past players and teams. Paul brought with him a binder stuffed full of photos and other memorabillia.
"I've went to about five or six of these basketball games in the past year, and I travel to any autograph event within the area," Paul said. "I've been a Steelers fan all my life, and I never pass up an opportunity to see them."
Sitting behind Paul was Jim McLaughlin from Lisbon, who was also a multiple-time attendee. For McLaughlin, the best part about the games are how the players interact with the fans.
"This is a blast to go to," McLaughlin said. "The players put on a great show for the crowd. Sometimes they will pull kids out of the stands and have them shoot foul shots. They do a nice job of keeping everyone involved."
One player who did show up on time was wide reciever Antonio Brown. Brown addressed the crowd and spent some time talking to fans until the other players arrived.
"This is a great way to stay connected to our fan base," Brown said. "They give us so much support during the season, it's nice for them to come out and see a different side to us."
Shortly after 10 p.m., the fans were rewarded for their patience as the game finally tipped-off. Although none of the players in attendance would be well known to the average fan, that did not matter, as long as they were Steelers. McLaughlin summed it up best saying, "For me, any player wearing a black-and-gold uniform is worth watching."