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GogoGirl
Jul 24th, 2002, 09:20 PM
http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-plaschke24jul24.column?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dsport s

Czechfan - you make some good points. We all know that Venus and Serena are very comfortable in their own skin. They give back much to their communities, and they have given up many funds and time to their respective causes.

You are so right - because Serena did speak out a couple of years ago about the SC flag issue - and most know how her heart is. I didn't mind the fact that she showed up there this year - because at least she took a stance on the issue for general principle.

But please read the below article. Tears came to mine eyes. Andre and Steffi needs to be commended for their caring hearts.

DM - you were wise to mention Andre. I have more respect for him as a man than I do as a tennis player



July 24, 2002 Talk about it E-mail story Print


Bill Plaschke:
Serving Up Hope
Dedication, a cornerstone of Agassi's career, is the essence of his school.



Agassi with students
(AP)

Quote

"A lot of people thought it was risky. It was going to be like riding your money on the blackjack table.... My question is, how can you not want to give back?"
-- Andre Agassi


LAS VEGAS -- Neat in their crimson and navy uniforms, safe in this brick courtyard shadowed by barred windows, the forgotten children of this town's forgotten neighborhood gather at their school for morning announcements.

A little hand shoots up.

There are no tennis courts here, no tennis photos here, no tennis spoken here.

But the little hand belongs to a little boy who cannot help himself.

"Mr. Tanaka?" he asks the principal. "My mother said that Mr. Agassi is playing this morning at Wimbledon. Can we give him a good thought?"

The principal nods and, instantly, another little hand shoots up, then another, then another.

The children are pointing to a place 5,000 miles away, then, just as suddenly, they are praying.

Their hands still raised, their scratchy pleadings fill the sky with the sounds of a most unusual pep rally.

"Good luck, Mr. Agassi!"

"Do your best, Mr. Agassi!"

"We're thinking about you, Mr. Agassi."

Across the ocean, the founder of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy is listening.

"I hear the children all the time," Andre Agassi says softly. "I hear them on the court. I hear them in my sleep."


___


Some athletes give autographs.

Andre Agassi teaches children how to write.

Some athletes hang around needy children for an afternoon.

Agassi is hanging around for a childhood.

Using nearly $2 million of his own money, he has helped build and open a public school that is the antithesis of his city and his sport.

Located in the capital of glitz, it sits amid dull, sagging houses and trash-lined streets.

Built with money made on a tour known for selfish brats, it is a gleaming brick and steel monument to selflessness.

"We've all learned, if you take away hope, you create a suicide bomb," Agassi said. "More than anything, this is about hope."

Hope, in the form of 150 children from mostly single-parent, depressed homes.

Hope, with no tuition and admission based on a blind lottery.

Hope, with an Agassi attitude.

The hours are longer than a regular public school, there are classes on Saturday, and expectations are high.

If children break rules, they work with the school janitor to instruct them on life without schooling.

If the parents aren't actively involved with the children's work, both are asked to leave.

"Before you get here, you hear both good and bad," said Calinda Wells, mother of third-grader Caleah. "But when you get here, you realize, it's all good.

"Yes, they push your kids to excel. Yes, they demand respect. But no, that's not bad."

The school is already so popular after one year that there are more than 150 people on a waiting list.

More amazingly, after one year the school is still spotless inside and unmarked by graffiti outside.

"There really aren't words to describe it," Las Vegas councilman Lawrence Weekly said.

Cynthia Catha had words, in the form of a scream, when she learned that her third-grade son Paul had been admitted this year.

"I grabbed the letter out of the mailbox and couldn't help myself," she said. "Everybody in the neighborhood is talking about this place."

And talking about Agassi, who, at 32, has made the difficult leap from the cover of tabloids to the dignified position as one of this country's leading public service athletes.

"God bless Mr. Agassi," said Anita Earl-King, a mother of one of the students. "I don't know much about tennis, but I know about this community, and what he's done for us has made him a hero here."

A decade ago, local bookmakers would not have dared make odds on tennis' fast-lane, hard-charging star using his legacy to embrace children so unlike him.

The school is mostly African American, mostly poor, mostly kids who have never even owned a tennis racket.

"People have actually come up to me and said, 'Why can't we find a black person to come in here and do this?' " Weekly said. "My answer has always been, 'I don't care if this man is green and he's from Mars. Andre's heart is in the right place and his money is honest."

A decade ago, you would have thought Brooke Shields would go bald before Agassi would be spotted listening to children serenade him with, "Wind Beneath My Wings."

But that is what happened last fall during one of the school's first open house ceremonies, catching the founder by surprise.

"I stood there with tears streaming down my face," Agassi said. "It was so pure ... so pure."

Pure joy, during the half-dozen times that Agassi has visited the place.

Pure hell, during those moments when he's trying to figure out how to pay for the rest of it.

The school began with grades 3-5 last year. It will add sixth grade this year, and continue adding grades every year until the school serves kindergarten through 12th grade.

The cost of completing the school will be an additional $26 million.

The state is loaning them the land and paying money for every student, as with any public school. Contributions from various fund-raisers also help, particularly the annual Agassi Foundation Gala here in late September, which has raised as much as $4 million in one night.

But Agassi knows the bucks literally stop with him.

And he knows that he no longer has a choice.

"I've gotten pretty scared about it at times," he said Sunday afternoon while preparing to defend his title in the Mercedes-Benz Cup at UCLA.. "The idea of all these kids counting on you ....

"I have got to come up with that money. You can't take a child from third to sixth grade and then say, 'Good luck!' "

Especially not now, with success stories flying around the desert like an Agassi volley.

Sitting on plastic slipcovers in her modest home several miles away, Anita Earl-King talked about her fourth-grade son Jamaal.

He was told he had reading problems. He was told he would always be behind.

"Then we go to Agassi, and they tell him that he can read well, and they work with him until he does," said the medical clerk. "They gave us hope. They showed us Jamaal can be whatever he wants to be."

There are certain days during the year when students are not required to wear uniforms.

"But Jamaal is so proud of his school, he wears his uniform on those days anyway," Earl-King said.

There are dozens of stories like that one from Agassi parents, many of whom have never seen him play tennis, and couldn't care less.

They bring their children to a school where, on a recent morning, a third-grade teacher hands out that night's homework to a class cheer.

"And why do we cheer?" asks the teacher.

"Because if we gripe, we get more homework," chant the students.

When the school opened last year, not one student was reading at grade level. After one year, the entire school is at least at grade level.

Is it any wonder that during a recent trip to the supermarket, Agassi was stopped by a woman begging for an application for her child?

"I'm amazed by the entire thing as much as anybody," Agassi said. "I'm not a bright person. But I surround myself with people who are smarter than me."

The idea for a school came from that team, which was reacting to the work that was being accomplished at the nearby Andre Agassi Boys & Girls Club.

"The people at the club saw so much potential in the kids, they wondered if we couldn't work with them more than a couple of hours a day," said Julie Pippenger, executive director of the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation.

Pippenger and Perry Rogers, the foundation's president and longtime Agassi friend, decided that a full-time school was the only option.

"A lot of people thought it was risky," Agassi said. "It was going to be like riding your money on the blackjack table. You had to keep putting money up there with the chance of losing everything."

In the end, he said, the decision was easy.

"My question is, how can you not want to give back?" he said. "How can you grow up and succeed and not want to share that success with your community?"

In February 2001, they took that risk, breaking ground at the same time they were helping alter Nevada's charter school legislation to allow them longer school days and a more flexible curriculum.

The school was completed and opened a couple of weeks before the Sept. 11 tragedy.

On that day, Agassi made his first of several unannounced visits.

"I just wanted to see why we continue fighting," he said.

When he comes to the school, often with wife Steffi Graf and their son, he asks for no special privileges.

They'll slip into the back of a class, watch for a few minutes, sit with some of the kids at the computers, check out the artwork and leave.

"When I'm there, it's like nothing I've ever felt in my life," Agassi said.

There is a sign on the door of Agassi's gift.

"Share the pride, step inside," it reads.

A tiny step for many. A giant step for one.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at: Bill.Plaschke@latimes.com.

graf630
Jul 25th, 2002, 12:28 AM
Thank you for that wonderful story!:)

Daniel
Jul 25th, 2002, 12:30 AM
Thanks :) :) :)

Crazy Canuck
Jul 25th, 2002, 12:44 AM
Thankyou :)

I knew about his school but I had no idea what it was all about, and now I know.

servenrichie
Jul 25th, 2002, 10:31 AM
Thank you, that was quite touching!

tennischick
Jul 25th, 2002, 11:16 AM
it's great being reminded of how giving Andre and Steffi are ;)

Rocketta
Jul 25th, 2002, 01:48 PM
Great Story! I especially love these lines! They made me laugh.

"And why do we cheer?" asks the teacher.

"Because if we gripe, we get more homework," chant the students.

Ntosake
Jul 25th, 2002, 02:05 PM
Thanks GogoGirl,

I can't remember what show it was , but they recently ran a feature of the school and Agassi visiting it. I was amazed, and I saw him in a whole different light. (I always liked him, but even more so after I saw this), and the children...wow, it made me want to cry.

That's what it will take, Everyone doing what they can. :)

Vincent
Jul 26th, 2002, 01:39 PM
A touching story :)

eshell
Jul 26th, 2002, 02:54 PM
Agassi is a class act! The more I read about him pursuing his passions, the more impressed I am.

I hope that he can continue to operate the school. I would make a donation too!

Tennis, although a game, can change the world.

junkartist
Jul 26th, 2002, 05:26 PM
What a beautiful article! I am so touched that I have tears in my eyes! I knew Agassi was involved in many charitable endeavors..just did not know how much he touched others lives...how deep! Kudos Andre!:D