When a Celtic Says `Stay in School'
Pro-basketball players use their star status to make a difference in kids' lives
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'Coach' Willie Maye, sports director at WILD AM radio station in Boston, often acts as liaison in bringing pro players closer to kids. WILD AM is a popular Boston station, especially with inner-city kids, and its staff help make Celtics players accessible on and off air. Maye says this is important because they can provide a side of the athlete to their audience that others can't - whether it's bowling with Dee Brown or playing tennis with Larry Bird.Skip to next paragraph
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WILD's disc jockeys often make joint appearances with Celtics players at such places as schools or community centers where they can involve inner-city youth. They also challenge Celtics players to sports contests such as three-point shootouts or tennis matches. Recently, disc jockey Stephen Hill challenged Ed Pinckney to a three Bs tournament: billiards, bowling, and basketball. The basketball segment was held at the Tobin High School in the Mission Hill section of Boston. After the one-on-one game, Pinc kney stayed and answered questions from kids who watched.
Young people really relate to sports figures because they are like heroes or role models, Maye says. Sports heroes seem to understand inner-city struggles, he adds, citing Magic Johnson's visit to a high school here as an example.
Ralph Mosher, a professor of psychology and education at Boston University, cites several reasons why adolescents identify with professional athletes. "In growing up, adolescents are forming answers to questions like: Who am I going to be when I grow up? What values will I live by? Who am I going to model myself after?" According to Dr. Mosher, these questions are "either asked of adolescents intuitively or brought about by fortuitous relationships with older men in their communities."
M.L. Carr of the Celtics sees sports playing a large role in dispelling stereotypes. "For example, at the Olympics you see hugs, high fives, disappointment, jubilation that crosses all barriers - wealthy, poor, inner city, suburbanite," he observes. "All stereotypes just go out the door and sports has helped integrate this country better than anything else."
Still, a youth's chances of attending a pro game are not often good. Boston Garden, home of the Celtics, seats only 14,890 and games have been sold out continuously since 1979, says Wayne Levy of the Celtics community relations department. However, this past season, the Celtics and Gatorade cosponsored a program to donate 25 tickets to 15 home games this year to groups like the Roxbury Boys Club and the Dorchester YMCA, according to Levy. The tickets are used as motivational awards for academic achieveme nts or perfect attendance at school.
Back at the Hennigan School, Eddie, Kareem, Junior, and friends say they have never had the chance to attend a Celtics game, but they rarely miss televised games - regardless of what team is playing.
Kareem's dream is to play basketball through high school, win a basketball scholarship to Harvard, and go on to play for a pro team. Lemuel Mills, director of the community center at the Hennigan School, says that Kareem has a good chance for a scholarship at one of two prep schools located in Boston suburbs because he is both a good ball player and a good student.
Pinckney's advice to kids with dreams like Kareem's: "Stay focused as much as possible, and if you become the very best that you can be, doors may open up for you. And don't let anyone discourage you."