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Steelers, St. Vincent are both class acts at summer camp

Saturday, July 31, 1999

By Michael A. Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Sweat-soaked after running 40-yard dash after 40-yard dash on the well-maintained practice field at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, members of the 1999 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers walked up the short hill to Kennedy Hall, where they would shower and change.

  Steelers' first-round draft pick Troy Edwards signs autographs for fans after the first day of practice at training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe yesterday. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

Some players delayed their respite from the sun to sign autographs for fans who crowded along the walkway behind barriers after watching their heroes during the first day of training camp 1999.

At dinner time, players, Steelers staff and media went to the campus cafeteria and chose between six dinner entrees. At 10 p.m., those who wanted one had a snack there.

Later, Steeler coaches and players retired to their state-of-the-art dorm rooms in, appropriately enough, Rooney Hall.

Another year, another Steelers training camp?

Well, yes and no.

The familiar routine of camp takes planning.

Preparation for this year's edition began in March.

Seamlessly mounting an undertaking that gets the team ready for its season, attracts upward of 100,000 fans who watch free of charge is testament to the organization and philosophy of both the Steelers and St. Vincent College.

Training camp for the Steelers has been synonymous with St. Vincent since St. Vincent alumnus Art Rooney Jr. (Class of '57) suggested to his father, Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., that the campus of the Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts college would be a nice fit for his team.

He was right. The relationship between the Steelers and St. Vincent is so symbiotic that it cannot be described simply in business terms. There is no long-term agreement for the arrangement, which instead is year-to-year.

"We just always presume they're coming back and they always presume they are, too," said Don Orlando, St. Vincent public relations director. "One year just rolls into the next one."

Steelers President Dan Rooney is close friends with the college president, the Rev. Martin R. Bartel. He received an honorary doctor of humane letters at commencement exercises in the spring at which his son, Arthur J. Rooney II, gave the commencement address.

The college's relationship with the team and with fans has succeeded, Orlando said, because of the philosophy of the Benedictine monks who own and operate St. Vincent.

"St. Benedict had a book of rules and one of them was, 'All guests are to be received as Christ,'" Orlando noted.

David Adams, director of facility management, said there are logistical and physical plant refinements made annually to accommodate the team and fans. Though the first practice was about to begin, he was loose and relaxed yesterday.

Adams is responsible for where the Steelers and the media stay and eat and where the players practice and shower and lift weights and where the fans watch the practices and wait for autographs.

All this football responsibility for a guy who didn't recognize Coach Bill Cowher's name as preparations were being made for Cowher's second training camp.

"The Steeler staff kept saying 'Cowher this,' and 'Cowher that.' Finally, I said, 'Who is this Cowher guy?'" Adams laughingly recalled.

He knows now. "What fascinates me is his leadership style. I see him as a true coach and leader and I mean not just the players but leading the administrative and logistical effort" at St. Vincent, Adams said.

Adams said much of the success is due to his workers, some of whom have been with the college since the Steelers first started going there for camp and who he said personify the Benedictine tradition "and recognize the mystery of God's creation in all people."

"If someone gets lost, they don't point them in the direction. They take them there," he said.

The university has steadfastly kept the fan visits free, despite costs to the physical plant. This year, rather than charge a parking fee, the college is utilizing the volunteerism of the Student Government Association, whose members are assisting fans with parking and directions. The association will accept donations if offered.

The college has been repaid for its hospitality by the courteous behavior of its visitors, Orlando said.

"The number of problems we've had at St. Vincent are not even worth talking about, they are so insignificant.

"We don't have parking problems. People don't litter. You don't even hear profane language. I think people somehow are impacted by the environment here."

The college gains through its heightened visibility and identification -- a key for a private college that spends little on advertising.

When the Steelers aren't there, the college is mentioned in 300 to 400 stories a month, Orlando said.

During July and August, that figure explodes to 1,000 or more.

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