by Malik Vincent
For New Pittsburgh Courier

In his first public appearance in Pittsburgh since his retirement, former Steeler Hines Ward stood in front of 26 student athletes that were honored from around the area and their families at the Heinz History Center.

OUTSTANDING MALE AND FEMALE STUDENT-ATHLETES—26 area athletes gathered at the Heinz History Center on April 21 to receive awards given for their accomplishments as students and citizens.

Ward established a partnership with Positive Athlete, a national organization based in Atlanta, to help recognize the accomplishment of those in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

“I started this positive athletes program, just to inspire kids,” Ward said. “I like to encourage (youth) on taking on a new role of joining positive sportsmanship, hanging around positive people, and trying not hang around with negative people all the time. Really, just for them to be encouraging to others and to be a leader in the community.”

A third round draft pick of the Steelers in 1997, Ward has served as an international model of what can be deemed a “positive athlete.” Known as one of the toughest wide receivers in NFL history, Ward is also noted for keeping a smile through the game’s toughest moments.

“Hines is one of our lead guys for, not only what this program does in the city of Pittsburgh, but all over the country,” Positive Athlete Executive Director Scott Pederson said.

More than 170 nominations from coaches, principals, athletic directors, teachers, and parents representing 75 different Western Pa. high schools, some as far away as Erie, Pa., were submitted through the Positive Athlete and MSA Sports websites.

The event was emceed by KDKA sports anchor Bob Pompeani, with assistance from MSA Sports broadcasters Lanny Frattare and Don Rebel, and featured a special appearance by Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens.

Three youth from the Pittsburgh inner-city were honored at the April 21 event.

Ben Swaby is a senior baseball star from Allderdice. He’s developed a reputation for being an ‘all-around’ athlete, with his 3.8 GPA and is known for always being positive.

“I was initially surprised when I first won this award,” Swaby said. “When my coach first told me, I felt really fortunate and I’ve been looking forward to ever since.”

He is torn between attending either the University of Maryland and Allegheny College to play baseball and major in pre-medicine.

Christian Joiner, a senior at Central Catholic, is a multi-sport performer in basketball and track and field. His relaxed demeanor has helped his basketball team compete for a WPIAL championship and in the PIAA playoffs. In track, he participates as a long and triple jumper for the Vikings.

“I’m in a positive, upbeat environment at my school,” Joiner said. “That’s one of the key things for me to have had on the way to this honor.”

He is hoping to attend the University of Akron or Duquesne University in the fall.

Brittany Jackson is a sophomore basketball player from Westinghouse. She was a guard on the city’s runner-up that competed with Allderdice all the way to the wire in the Feb. 25 championship game.

“Usually, kids from the inner-city are automatically kind of put behind the eight-ball,” Ward said. “They get a misconception that they come from a bad environment and that they’re bad people. You have so many great people that live within the inner-city school district borders. I just think that sometimes it’s a little harder for them (because of) that negative connotation that they’re bad people because of where they come from.”

“Hines told me when we selected him for this, that the kind of athletes he was looking for (to be honored) was the kind that would keep smiling after anything, both good and bad,” Pederson said. “I think that’s what we were able to do.”

(Malik Vincent can be reached at or on Twitter @malikvincent.)

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