82 Schools Win the Lottery, Wizards-Style

Winning schools rejoiced, including representatives of Thurgood Marshall Academy in the District: Dartalian Spruill, 14, left; Daniel Pryor, 13, seated; counselor Takia Hawkins; Angela White, 13; and Stephen Stewart, 13. (Photos By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The cries were deafening, as high-pitched as teen-idol screams. Students waved hand-lettered posters: TUBMAN FOR GILBERT and GILBERT SCORES FOR SIMON.

They had come to the Verizon Center, these 1,200 students, teachers and principals from 240 schools all over the Washington metro area, for a shot at winning cash from Wizards' superstar Gilbert Arenas. For each of this season's 41 home games, Arenas has pledged to continue last year's tradition of giving $100 for every point he scores in a game -- and he scores a game average 28.4 points -- to a D.C.-area school.

That works out to an average of almost $3,000 to 82 different schools because Wizards owner Abe Pollin matches the payout for all 41 away games. Last year, Arenas -- who was the third-leading scorer in the National Basketball Association -- and Pollin donated almost $215,000 in the inaugural season of the "Gilbert Arenas Scores for Schools" program.

It's a hefty bag of cash, especially for such schools as Southeast's Simon Elementary, where "we need computers," math resource teacher Jennifer Johnson said amid the din. "And we need resource books for teachers. And we need a lab for computers. And we need to go on more field trips. And teacher supplies. We just don't have the resources." In general, money for such necessities, she added, "comes out of our pockets."

So there was Johnson yesterday, watching Arenas pull school names from a gold basket and regularly screaming the number assigned to her school: "36! Gilbert! THIR-TY SIX!"

The idea for the program came before the start of last year's season, when Arenas was brainstorming charity ideas with the Wizards' senior director for community relations, Sashia Jones.

The session, Jones said, was classic Arenas: He wanted this charity idea to be "something nobody else had ever done," and he wanted it "big" and primed to "impact children."

As the Scores for Schools idea bloomed, they decided that Arenas would take responsibility for all 41 home games, and team owner Pollin would finance the point-scoring donations from all of Arenas's 41 away games.

"What inspired you to start shooting for money?" Arenas was asked yesterday afternoon by a quiet boy who had printed his question in pencil on lined notebook paper.

"Because," the 6-foot-4 ball player answered gently, leaning forward toward the boy, who was about half of Arenas's height, "I always dreamed of a player doing it for my school."

The idea that needy public schools from Washington, D.C., would be competing for funds with schools from affluent areas, such as raffle-winner Chevy Chase Elementary, isn't one that Arenas finds troubling. "No matter what neighborhood you come from, every school needs help," he said. The 82 schools chosen were picked from those that registered.

And of course, given that the Wizards' community relations team is also behind the program, the likelihood is that parents from richer schools and neighborhoods may be more able to afford Wizards tickets than parents from a more struggling neighborhood.

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