Pierson, Ford remind students of good sportsmanship

Still in the Neighborhood

Children grow up and move on, matriculating from one grade to the next, preschool to elementary school to middle school and so on. Their evolution is constant.

The schools don’t go anywhere. They endure change a little bit at a time, sometimes so slowly it’s hard to recognize until someone pulls out a yearbook. Even then, the changes are often more subtle than substantial.

So when a change as big and radical as the library renovation at Will Rogers Elementary School in Pontiac two summers ago takes place, its impact is felt longer after the initial rush of a ribbon-cutting ceremony. And not just by the students who were there that day, Sept. 9, 2007. It’s felt by the students in the grades beneath them, the ones who get to spend years exploring the gifts of an updated book collection and a state-of-the-art computer lab.

It is in that spirit that the Pistons-Palace Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Detroit Pistons and Shock, teamed up with their longtime Read to Achieve partners to revisit each of the NBA-leading 21 Live, Learn and Play Centers they have opened since 2002. And with each visit, they take the time to replenish the gift - starting with a $2,500 grant to maintain the center’s resources.

Shock also visit Burton International
Cheryl Ford, Plenette Pierson and Aaron Smith made a separate visit prior to Will Rogers at the Burton International School in Detroit Dec. 2. Along with Shock assistant coach Cheryl Reeve and team mascot Zap, the Shock encouraged students to strive toward classroom success while also having fun in the gym, including a “students versus teachers” shooting competition. Click here to learn more about Year-Round Hoops assemblies. Burton Photo Gallery
“It’s good to be back,” said Aaron Smith, director of the Shock’s Year-Round Hoops program. He emceed the brief assembly with 134 fourth, fifth and sixth graders, which he started by asking them to point their favorite things in the Shock-themed media center. One student pointed straight up at ceiling, where the replica PalaceVision television monitors played a Shock highlight tape. Another student noted the graphic wallpaper that looked like a sold-out Palace crowd cheering them on.

When one boy said his favorite part was “the center,” Smith thought he was referring to the miniature replica of the Detroit Shock court he was sitting on. “No, like the whole center,” he clarified.

“They love it, it’s different for them,” said Rogers principal Bettye Clark. “The eye-catching visuals makes them want to come in more so I appreciate that because that’s what the library is for, to sit in and read. It’s just been a good thing for them.”

Another student pointed at the replica championship banners of the Pistons and Shock hanging behind Smith’s head. Turning around, he noticed one slightly important update that would have to be made.

“It looks like we’re going to have to add one more,” said Smith, referring to the Shock winning their third championship two months ago. The day after the Shock completed their WNBA Finals sweep of the San Antonio Silver Stars, six players showed up at Alcott Elementary School in Pontiac to open the Pistons-Palace Foundation’s 20th Live, Learn and Play Center opening.

“[Will Rogers] is still my favorite,” confessed Sharon Martin, Newspapers in Education manager for the Detroit Media Partnership, who attended both openings. “I think this one is just awesome because I was here when they first opened it and I was just taken aback.”

Representing the Detroit Free Press Gift of Reading program, Martin helped present a $2,500 scholarship to Nathan Chang, who entered the “Pistons-Detroit Free Press Gift of Reading” scholarship essay contest. (Learn about the online scholarship contest here.)

Chang recited his winning entry, softly but clearly and with little evidence of the nerves other 12-year-olds might have had. “When your team loses, you must not have a bad attitude because giving up is not an option and having a bad attitude never works,” Chang said. “Sportsmanship is also about fairness. You must give everyone a chance to play the game. That is what teamwork is all about.”

Following the assembly, the students went to the gym, where Smith ran a 40-minute basketball clinic with the help of some pretty special counselors - two members of the Shock’s 2008 championship team, Cheryl Ford and Plenette Pierson. After practicing drills, the students were divided into teams for a shooting contest, won twice by Ford’s group. That’s when Smith saw an opportunity to remind them of their classmate’s message about sportsmanship.

“Plenette’s team lost. They didn’t get mad, they clapped their hands both times,” he said. “That’s great sportsmanship by those students who didn’t win the shooting contest, so let’s give it up for them.”

After the clinic students lined up to meet Ford, who passed out candy, and Pierson, who autographed the back of their “Read to Achieve” T-shirts. Outside in the hallway, younger students lined up for the bus, ready to end another school day. Though they weren’t in the assembly, those students benefited from this visit too. IBM - which donated the technology for the school’s computer lab - delivered a new “Young Explorer” machine, with software specializing in early reading programs and for translating English and Spanish.

The Young Explorer “is for early childhood so our kindergarten and first grades will use that one,” said Clark, who said slightly more than a quarter of her students are Spanish-speaking. “The other grades will still go [in the lab].”

Unlike many of the students who raised their hands earlier, Nathan Chang - who already knows he wants to work in electronics and design video games when he gets older - did not have a favorite feature in the Live, Learn and Play Center. Chang, as his essay so clearly demonstrated, saw the bigger picture.

“I’m just thankful that they sponsored this school.”