“This is amazing,” Pontiac Mayor Clarence Phillips said Friday afternoon at the ribbon-cutting ceremony inside the most lavish of the 16 Reading and Learning centers the Shock and Detroit Pistons have donated to Michigan schools and children’s centers, more than any NBA or WNBA organization. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.”
With the aid of a technology grant from IBM, the Detroit Shock Reading and Learning Center outfitted Will Rogers with thousands of new book titles and 24 computer stations in a brightly outfitted library that’s a mini replica of The Palace of Auburn Hills – right down to the hardwood floor, the Pistons and Shock red-white-and-blue color scheme and the piece de resistance: a mini PalaceVision scoreboard hanging from the ceiling complete with four 32-inch flat-screen televisions to show educational videos to the school’s approximately 350 students.
Fourteen of the 24 new computers were laptops donated by IBM and 10 desktop computers came courtesy of the Pistons-Palace Foundation.
“This is a huge upgrade,” Rogers principal Bettye Clark said, beaming inside her prized new addition. “The kids are already excited about it and the teachers are all talking about it. Once they get the schedule put together, the kids are going to be in here every day.”
Deanna Nolan, who’s led the Shock back to the WNBA Finals after winning the Finals MVP award during the 2006 championship season, grew up about 40 miles north along Interstate 75 in a city that might as well be Pontiac’s genetic twin, Flint, where last May the Shock similarly outfitted the Boys and Girls Club.
“Growing up in a city like this one, you never had anything like this happen to you,” Nolan said after checking out some of the software programs available with several Rogers students. “This is great for these kids, to have the opportunity to come in and look up whatever they want, read whatever they want, learn whatever they want.”
Clark is especially excited about the technological edge now available to Rogers’ student body, which has shifted with the population base on Pontiac’s increasingly more Hispanic northeast side.
“We have such a large Hispanic group and I’m told the software will be able to translate English to Spanish and Spanish to English,” she said. “We’re always pushing to meet AYP – adequate yearly progress. We met it two years previous and this past year we did not. I expect high standards and our kids perform, but this is a tool that can help us help them.”
And that’s at the heart of the Reading and Learning centers, a signature component of the WNBA/NBA Cares program launched by commissioner David Stern in 2005 that pledged 100 such centers over a five-year period.
“It’s our most lasting and significant community-based program,” Pistons and Palace president and CEO Tom Wilson said at Friday’s ribbon cutting. “As an organization, we’ve always lived the creed that it’s essential to be good neighbors in the places we do business. There’s no better way to do that than by helping our communities meet the educational needs of their children in an increasingly competitive world. This is where it starts.”
The WNBA, as the NBA has done, partners with the two teams that advance to the Finals in completing a WNBA/NBA Cares project in each competing city before a champion is crowned. Friday’s ceremony came between games 1 and 2 of the WNBA Finals with the Shock leading 1-0 after their 108-100 Game 1 win. Nolan and her Shock teammates, who drew squeals and thunderous applause in a ceremony amid the school gymnasium that also received a fresh coat of Pistons and Shock-colored paint to mark the occasion before the ribbon cutting, urged the students to make full use of their new library – and then come out in force for Saturday afternoon’s Game 2.
“Wear out those books,” Shock guard Katie Smith told them.
“We’re going to need you,” Nolan said, “to win another championship.”
As a student at Flint’s Brownell Elementary, Nolan could have only imagined what it might have been like to host a championship women’s professional basketball team she idolized – while it was in the midst of defending its title.
“It would have meant a lot,” she said. “Girls didn’t have that type of role model then. We grew up watching Jordan, everybody else – guys. You never had that woman figure to look up to, except maybe ones in the community. I think this can mean a lot to the little girls here – knowing they have something to shoot for.”
And they can even follow the Shock’s quest on the 24 new computers inside Will Rogers Elementary’s refurbished library – and read about them one day soon in some of those new books lining the shelves.