LATROBE — This is not the center of Western Pennsylvania. Latrobe, a town of about 8,000 on the eastern side of Westmoreland County, is best known for being the hometown of adopted Pittsburgh luminaries Arnold Palmer and Fred Rogers and the place where Rolling Rock used to be made.
That is, except for three weeks towards the end of summer, when the campus of St. Vincent College may as well be the corner of Fifth Avenue and Grant Street.
The Steelers have been bringing their players to Latrobe for summer camp for the last 53 years, and they bring a lot more than that, with crowds ranging in the the thousands for each open practice period at Chuck Noll Field and even more at the team’s annual “Friday Night Lights” event held at Latrobe High School. Year after year, signs dot Route 30 welcoming the Steelers back for training camp — and the hordes of fans that come with them that are a boon for business.
During the Steelers’ final Latrobe practice at Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, thousands lined the sidelines and the stands, hoping for one more chance at seeing their favorite players take a grand total of two dozen 11-on-11 snaps.
Not only do Pittsburghers make the trek out to see the Steelers practice, fans even travel in from out of town to see them. Laura and Matt Hindal journeyed from Ocala, Florida to see the Steelers practice and also plan on taking in the preseason game this Saturday at Heinz Field. They aren’t originally from Pittsburgh, just a couple of Steelers fans that made the trek to check out the team’s newest players and take in the entirety of the training camp scene.
Of course, the Steelers aren’t the only game in town when it comes to pre-season practices mostly performed without pads, but you wouldn’t know it to gauge by the level of fan interest.
That’s because fans of the collegiate game are mostly left out during training camp. Pitt’s practices are totally closed to the public, as are Penn State’s. West Virginia allowed fans a pair of 30-minute viewing windows per week up until school started.
#Pitt fans: If the team had an open practice or scrimmage during training camp, would you attend?
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) August 13, 2018
If the draw of watching football players scrimmage is the chance to glimpse a future star in the making or see what a new acquisition is all about, it would seem that the college game is primed for viewing pleasure, with a quarter of the roster turning over from season to season.
Just over 7,000 came to see Pitt’s Blue-Gold game at Heinz Field this spring. Surely, the Panthers could draw several thousand to come see a practice or scrimmage at a high school field.
Pitt’s proclivity for privacy isn’t uncommon in the college football world, but for a school that has struggled to fill Heinz Field for years and is coming off the program’s worst attendance mark in a decade, all the stops should be pulled out.
They only need to look to their next-door neighbors for the proper example to follow.