It was a school night.
WNBA Finals MVP Katie Smith, Cheryl Ford, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Alexis Hornbuckle, Olayinka Sanni, Sheri Sam, and Ashley Shields spent the morning after their Game 3 victory at Alcott Elementary School in Pontiac. Two-hundred students greeted the Shock with boisterous applause at a brief assembly that preceded the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a refurbished Shock and Pistons themed library.
“I thought it would be hard to get up,” Hornbuckle said, “but I was excited to get up and put smiles on those kids’ faces.”
The NBA, WNBA and Toyota have opened 250 Reading and Learning centers worldwide through their community initiative Toyota Project Rebound. The Alcott renovation is the 20th Reading and Learning project opened by the Pistons-Palace Foundation on behalf of the Pistons and Shock – the most by any organization.
“I hope you take full advantage of that reading and learning center,” Smith told the students assembled in the gymnasium, many wearing orange WNBA Cares T-shirts along with their teachers. “Use it often, as much as you can, and have fun with it.”
The Pistons-Palace Foundation will be revisiting all 19 existing reading and learning centers to donate new technology, courtesy of IBM, and award the “Gift of Reading Scholarship” in conjunction with the Detroit Free Press. Students at each school will participate in an essay contest about sportsmanship to win a $1,000 scholarship.
Alcott fifth grader Jordan Wright, 10, won the contest. She wrote a story about two friends, Pepper Piston and Shelly Shock, who signed up to play on a basketball team. “And Pepper, she didn’t know what sportsmanship was, and Shelly, she had friends because she knew what good sportsmanship was, and Pepper she got jealous and she asked Shelly why she had more friends and then she started having friends,” she explained.
Jordan’s mother, Charita, gave her daughter a big hug after the check presentation on the stage with all the players. “I was so excited. My knees kind of buckled. I was so excited for her. She worked so hard,” she said. “My daughter’s so dedicated and she enjoyed writing the piece.”
Charita, who has worked at the school for 13 years, was thoroughly impressed by the new computers and play area. “I’ve never seen anything like this," she said. "I’m so in awe.”
Jordan, 10, is already sure she wants to be a teacher. “We always tell our kids to set their goals now,” said Alcott principal Shana Burnett, “because this is where it starts.”
The Shock had to wait more than a year to regain the championship after losing in the 2007 WNBA Finals. The students and faculty at Abbott had to wait too after a scheduling snafu pushed back the library renovation back.
“They came back two years later because of the way this school is and the feeling when you come in here,” Burnett said. “They said, ‘we’re going to do it, no matter,’ and they made it happen.”
The new media center includes rows of desktop computers with up-to-date software, hundreds of new books with comfortable reading areas and classic children’s games. Toward the back of the room, students sat in Pistons and Shock beanbag chairs listening to Smith and McWilliams-Franklin. “I think school is the most important thing in the world,” said Taj, who helped distribute school supplies to children in Southfield in August, just days after joining the Shock from Washington.
Following a ribbon-cutting photo with the WNBA championship trophy – “Let me feel it,” several kids cried out – the players and students mixed it up in the new room. Sanni played several students at Connect Four, including first grader Olivia Stable.
“Show her your shirt,” Olivia’s mother, Kelly, said to her daughter. The six-year-old pulled up her orange WNBA Cares T-shirt to reveal a Shock T-shirt underneath. The family bought it just the day before at The Palace to watch Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on TV.
“She watched them all day yesterday. Cheering them on, she said, ‘You go girls!’ It was cute,” Kelley said. “My husband was trying to watch something else and she goes, “Daddy, the Shock’s on!”
They sure are – on a mission to have children enjoy the library as much as the basketball court. And as the San Antonio Silver Stars learned this week, there’s no stopping the Shock when they’re on a mission.