Open Nav


June 24, 2021

By Jared Shanker

As the final session of the RISE Coaches Leadership Series in partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers this spring concluded, Chuck Dinardo looked around the virtual room and knew it wouldn't be his last time seeing the other football coaches around him. In fact, those sessions would spur Dinardo to actually meet in-person for the first time some of those coaches who joined him.

A few weeks earlier, Dinardo, the head football coach at Pittsburgh-area high school Shady Side Academy, began a four-course virtual series led by RISE in partnership with the Steelers that brought together a group of youth and high school football coaches from racially and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods in western Pennsylvania. The series equipped the coaches with the skills and knowledge to effectively discuss and address matters of racism and injustice with their teams, school and communities.

“The best thing that came out of this is we got this group of coaches together who may not know each other, but now we have this bond we wouldn't have otherwise,” Dinardo said.

One of those bonds will develop into Dinardo's Shady Side players connecting with the younger players in the Pittsburgh Flag Football League. In one RISE session, a volunteer from the city's flag football league shared that one of the hurdles facing his league is that his players could use some tutoring. Upon hearing that, Dinardo said his players from Shady Side, a private school in an affluent suburb, could help.

Another coach at Penn Hills also offered to collaborate with the flag league to bring those programs together.

“We're already talking about what program or activity, even small to start, that we can do to grow the game of football but also help grow aspects of player development outside of football,” said Chris, the flag football volunteer coach. “If we can start to get players thinking that their situation, whether racially or economically, is shared and there's a mutual respect, hopefully it gives a better outlook on what this world and athletics has to offer.”

Steelers Director of Community Relations Blayre Holmes Davis and Youth Football and Player Relations Manager Mike Marchinsky join Champions of Change: The RISE Podcast to discuss the RISE Coaches Leadership Series.

Steelers Director of Community Relations Blayre Holmes Davis and Youth Football and Player Relations Manager Mike Marchinsky join Champions of Change: The RISE Podcast to discuss the RISE Coaches Leadership Series.

Joining the sessions were coaches from schools that were already regulars at Heinz Field - the traditional site for western Pennsylvania's high school championships and home of the Steelers. Included among the group were the head coaches at programs that have repeatedly won state titles and whose schools were once home to notable NFL players, such as Penn Hills (Aaron Donald), Clairton (Tyler Boyd) and Aliquippa (Ty Law and Darrelle Revis). During the sessions, the coaches shared the common and differing issues that their schools and communities face.

Dinardo said the setting promoted dialogue on social issues that their communities are aware of but don't always address.

“It's a sensitive matter and often times people are intimidated to talk about it,” said Chris, the flag football coach. “I'm a person of color, I'm Black, but that doesn't make us experts and we shouldn't be experts. To bring in [RISE] to get the dialogue going and create a safe space, it's a great idea.

“Often times it's not so much people don't desire a conversation but it's 'I don't want to be the person to start or be the one to screw it up.' When you bring in a third party who does this in the realm of athletics, it helps.”

And there are very few things that already bring people of all backgrounds together in the city of Pittsburgh like sports. Not many places have the city-team bond that Pittsburgh does with the Steelers, which have sold out every home game since 1972. The franchise serves as a unifying force in western Pennsylvania, including as recently as the 2018 season following a mass shooting rooted in Antisemitism and white supremacy at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The organization, coach Mike Tomlin and players such as Zach Banner made efforts to help the community heal, and the Steelers even remade their logo with the words “Stronger Than Hate” in the aftermath to honor victims and provide additional support.

“We're a Steelers town, and the city thrives and rallies around the Steelers; doesn't matter if you like football or have been here two years or your whole life,” Dinardo said. “To have them spearhead [the RISE Coaches Leadership Series] speaks to the kind of organization they are from the top down, not just talking about it but making commitments and taking action to create change in their community.”

RISE News & Stories



Sign up to get the latest news and information from RISE.