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Steelers Former Steeler's charity work with NFL group does Pittsburgh proud

Monday, July 21, 2003

By Ray Fittipaldo, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Todd Kalis does not have the name recognition of many of the Steelers who decide to live and work in Pittsburgh after their playing days are over.

Former Steelers lineman Todd Kalis, president of the local chapter of the NFL Alumni Association. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

He did not make much of an impact on the field during his one season with the team in 1994, when a broken ankle after 11 games forced him to miss the rest of the season.

He retired from pro football after the '95 season, and since then perhaps no other Steelers alumnus can claim to have done as much off the field.

An offensive lineman's work is anonymous labor, which made Kalis the perfect man to run the Pittsburgh chapter of the NFL Alumni Association, a nonprofit company whose mission statement is volunteer charity work for children through the motto: "Caring for Kids."

Kalis has helped the Pittsburgh chapter go from being inactive in the NFL Alumni network and $10,000 in debt to one of the most productive of the association's 30 chapters across the country.

All in three years.

"The city of Pittsburgh is very lucky to have a guy like Todd Kalis and his energy," said Frank Krauser, president of the NFL Alumni Association in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "His energy is unbelievable. He is so dedicated and focused on the community side of things. He takes whatever time is necessary to get things done, and the results obviously show that he has done a great job."

The Pittsburgh chapter ranks among the top five in the country along with St. Louis, Green Bay, San Francisco and New England. Over the past two years, it has raised $404,000, and $373,000 has gone back into the community through local charities. The money is raised through an annual golf tournament that has generated about $200,000 each year.

"We wish we could clone him for the rest of our chapters across the country," said NFL Alumni controller Frank Leistner.

Out of the red

Kalis does not get paid for his duties with the NFL Alumni. He is a vice president for Marsh Financial Services and keeps a public profile with appearances on "Steelers Huddle" during the football season on cable channel PCNC. Behind the scenes and away from the camera, Kalis has been a player in the city's corporate community, putting together deals and forging relationships with local companies which, in turn, give their money for sponsorship in NFL Alumni charity work.

The first thing Kalis did to get the Pittsburgh chapter solvent was to create a golf tournament with corporate sponsorship. Marty Lerch, vice president of the NFL Alumni, had read a magazine story on Heinz CEO Bill Johnson and his background as the son of former NFL player and coach Tiger Johnson. Kalis arranged a meeting with Heinz executives and, after one 90-minute session, persuaded the company to become title sponsor of the event. The only thing Johnson asked for in return was the freedom to designate what charities received the proceeds.

"He really hit a home run with Heinz," Lerch said.

The first golf event was in July 2001 at Sewickley Heights Country Club and netted $201,000. At the time, it was the most successful NFL Alumni golf tournament. It also was the highest-grossing, single-day private golf event in the Pittsburgh area, according to Kalis. Last year's event, also at Sewickley Heights, topped that, netting $202,000. This year's golf outing, which will be today at Allegheny Country Club, is expected to generate at least as much revenue.

"Todd has done a spectacular job," said former Steelers linebacker Andy Russell, who is an active volunteer with the chapter. "He's found sponsors. The lifeblood of all charity work is sponsorship, and he did a great job being able to get Heinz on board."

It helps that Pittsburgh is home to some of the most beloved and revered Steelers from the 1970s Super Bowl teams, who still have a magical aura around town. Among the Super Steelers who will be participating in the tournament today are Chuck Noll, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Lynn Swann and L.C. Greenwood. Kalis also has recruited out-of-town notables to play including Mike Ditka, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Joe Jacoby, Billy Kilmer and Donnie Anderson.

The more famous the players, the more money can be raised. Playing groups from local companies pay $12,500 to be in a fivesome with the celebrities.

"I'm pretty lucky to be the president of the Pittsburgh chapter," said Kalis, who noted that the chapter was successful under the leadership of Ray Mansfield and then went through a rough stretch after his death in 1996. "We have a pretty good base of guys who played on those Super Bowl teams who still live here, are visible."

More than fund raising

Kalis has organized other charitable activities, including a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses for low-income families. This will be the third consecutive year that former Steelers will help build homes in Greene County. Steelers alumni Russell, Rocky Bleier, Robin Cole and Randy Grossman, among others, have taken part in the construction of the homes.

Three homes were built in the past two years. Six homes in Carmichaels are being built in August. They're calling it the NFL Alumni/Habitat for Humanity Framing Frenzy. All six homes will be framed on the first day of construction.

"I couldn't think of anything more that supports Caring for Kids because the families are low-income families," Kalis said. "Every one of these families has kids. What's more essential than having a stable home environment for kids? I've really found the guys who come out and pound the nails find it fulfilling."

Former Steelers defensive lineman John Banaszak said the Steelers of the 1970s and '80s learned from and still abide by the lessons team founder Art Rooney Sr. taught them.

"We all get that from the Chief," Banaszak said of volunteerism. "He would regularly grab players and take them to the hospital to give back to the community. We all learned that as players. As a [college] coach, I've been able to teach that to my players who have done work with Habitat for Humanity and other things through NFL Alumni. ... Most of us are successful in our new careers. We carry that champion identity with us. If you're going to be a champion, you have to do things in the community. And raising money for children's charities is being a champion in your community."

Kalis also is in charge of raffling off a $5,000 Super Bowl package, which includes two tickets, airfare and hotel every year. He sells 200 tickets at $100 apiece to raise $20,000, $15,000 of which is distributed to local charities. There also are yearly visits to Children's Hospital and the Bradley Center.

"The most important thing I think the NFL Alumni can do for kids is to make a memory they'll never forget," said Kalis, who decided to make Pittsburgh his home because of what he called the strong moral and religious foundation of the region. "If you can sit down with a kid and make them smile with your presence and interact with them and let them ask you questions, then you've done your job."

Athlete turned author

As a fringe benefit, Kalis has had an opportunity to network with alumni members across the country. Last year, he took six months off to work on a book project, which focuses on how to raise young athletes.

Through his connections with NFL Alumni, Kalis was able to track down and interview 58 former NFL players, including 40 Hall of Famers. He asked them questions about their sporting environment as youths. The idea is to give parents guidance in knowing when and how to push their children.

"Every parent out there thinks they have the next John Elway or Michael Jordan," Kalis said. "Today, kids are starting at age 5 or 6. I personally don't feel you should start that young. Kellen Winslow didn't play until he was in the 11th grade. Peyton Manning didn't start until he was 12 years old."

Kalis hopes to have the book completed by the end of the year and is shopping it to publishers.

Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.

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