Ben and buddies give back

April 6, 2008

A packed house, the final seconds ticking away and a clutch player maneuvering for a 3-pointer he just had to make.

March Madness may yet be gripping the basketball world. But in Findlay High's gymnasium Saturday night, winning and losing took a distant back seat to entertainment.

Ben Roethlisberger knocked down that last-second 3-pointer, capping off a record-breaking 47-point performance in the second annual Ben Roethlisberger Challenge. The basket also capped off a 107-90 win over an all-star team of Hancock County senior basketball players. But for Roethlisberger, who bettered the 44 points he scored in last year's contest, the event that bears his name is about more than scoring points or claiming victory.

“It's a good way to give something back to my school,” said Roethlisberger, a 2000 FHS graduate who quarterbacked Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl championship in 2006.

“I'd rather do this than just cut a check. This way it brings the community together, it's a lot of fun and it's enjoyable for everybody.”

The annual basketball game generates funds for the Ben Roethlisberger Scholarship. Roethlisberger also donated $100 for every point he scored to the FHS football program.

“That's why Ritz (FHS football coach Mark Ritzler) passes me the ball so much,” Roethlisberger joked.

Roethlisberger led Findlay High to the Division I football playoffs in 1999. He is also the school's career scoring leader in basketball (1,095 points), so a fund raiser involving former Findlay High players and some of the top seniors in the area seemed a natural. “I enjoy this. It's fun to come back here and be able to do something like this,” Roethlisberger said. “I get to play ball with guys I've not seen in a long time and have a couple of my (Steelers) teammates come along, too.”

The buddies Roethlisberger brought along Saturday -- receiver Nate Washington and defensive lineman Brett Keisel -- made a lasting impression. Washington, who played his high school ball at Toledo Scott and college ball at Tiffin University, scored 20 points, with half of his 10 baskets coming on crowd-pleasing alley-oop slams.

“Nate Washington is the definition of an athlete,” said Findlay's Nick Condeni. “Those guys are all great basketball players. But we had fun. This was a great experience.”

Keisel, a 6-foot-6, 300-pounder, was an impressive force inside all night. He scored 22 points as the Steelers' connection accounted for 89 of Team Roethlisberger's 107 total points.

“My jumper's off but I have a nice post game,” said Keisel. “When you're 300 pounds and these high school kids are a buck-85, 200 at the most, it's easy to move them.”

For Keisel, who was a McDonald's All-American in basketball during his prep career at tiny Greybull, Wyoming, high school, taking part in the event was a “no-brainer.” “Ben and I have developed a good relationship so when he asked me to come along and do something that helps his high school football team, it was easy to say yes. “We are so fortunate to be blessed the way we are, being in the position we are. To have the opportunity to do this was just a good decision for me.”

“We wanted to let them get their feet wet first,” all-stars coach Aaron Roth said.

“Man, they're big, they're strong and they're tough,” said Arcadia's C.J. Holman. “Once you start playing though, you forget who you're playing against.”

Taking part in the game had special meaning for Arlington's Jacob Drerup. “It was a great experience because I'm a big Ben fan,” said Drerup, who wore No.7 and played quarterback for the Red Devils football team last fall. “He's a great quarterback and a great person. This is something I'll remember for a long time.”

Liberty-Benton's Andy Smith scored 16 points for the local and county all-stars. Holman, Drerup and Van Buren's Matt Phillips scored 12 points each and Condeni and Vanlue's Josh Kloepfer both had 10.

“It was a privilege to play in this game in front of 2,000 people, a once in a lifetime experience,” Phillips said.

“Before the game, I didn't know they were that good. But they're big and they move so well. It gives you an idea of how athletic professional athletes are.

“It was an adrenalin rush playing against Ben and Nate Washington. And that big guy (Keisel) is by far the biggest guy I've ever played against in any sport.

“I'm glad I had the chance to do this. It was a lot of fun.”

After Saturday's second annual Ben Roethlisberger Challenge, a lot of people were saying the same thing.