June 12, 2009
District receives $15,000 for gym makeover —
Special CHS prize: Coleman
The students, faculty and staff of Cortland Junior-Senior High School got the payoff for a well-earned national honor Thursday afternoon.
Hello, Derrick Coleman.
The former Syracuse University and National Basketball Association star appeared as part of a program to honor the school district with $15,000 in gym and fitness equipment as a reward for being the national winner from among some 40,000 schools in the Get Fit by Finals Campaign sponsored by the Milk Processor Education Program.
Jill Pace, the city school district’s wellness coordinator, who was in charge of the school’s efforts, assisted by her intern, senior Megan Summers, learned early last month that Cortland had won the honor among thousands of schools throughout the U.S. The program involved some 110 students and staff using a series of fitness measurements to track their progress online, starting in February.
“We picked Cortland because of the way the they utilized everything,” Laura Wilson, the publicist for the Got Milk? campaign, told the Standard when the award was announced. “I don’t know how many schools entered the gym makeover, but hundreds signed up for Get Fit By Finals.”
Word of Thursday’s presentation was also released in advance at that time, along with the fact that one of the celebrities from the Got Milk? campaign would be in attendance. That created a buzz and started rumors flying as to who it would be. By the time Coleman appeared for Thursday’s presentation, in conjunction with the NBA and Byrne Dairy, almost the entire school population knew who they were crammed into the gym to see and hear from.
Coleman, in a navy blue suit with orange (naturally) tie, didn’t disappoint. He told the assembled throng that he was a “living testimony to the importance of nutrition — I was a little chubby fat kid. It was hard work, but I did what it takes. When people tell you you can’t do this or that, just keep working, and strive to be what you want to be.
“Without nutrition, you’re nowhere. I had never been sick a day in my life, but spent three months in the hospital (a few years ago) with a blood clot in my chest, pneumonia, fluid on the lungs. I had to change my regimen; no more hamburgers or hot dogs. Now I eat yogurt, salads, soups.”
Noting that he was happy to be back in the Syracuse area, Coleman then went around and got his picture taken in each of the four sections of the gym stands after being presented with CHS apparel by Athletic Director Jeff Johnson. The hoop star then took off his jacket and did some shooting with senior Alena Turturro, who sank her only shot, from near the top of the arc on the left side, and Jordan Prior, who was also successful from the same area before missing a shot after Coleman said he’d give him $100 if he made it.
Coleman also canned a jumper from the left side before succumbing to the students’ chants for a dunk, missing the first and making the second. Then it was Prior’s turn, and after missing his first dunk attempt he caught a bouncing ball perfectly at the top of its apex, continued up and put down a slam as impressive as Coleman’s.
The program opened with Executive Principal Greg Santoro lauding the Fit by Finals participants as national champions, with congratulations also coming from Superintendent Larry Spring. Wilson thanked everyone involved for their efforts and played a congratulatory message for Cortland High from WNBA star Diana Taurasi.
Pace noted that the entire program wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the entire school community, giving Summers special recognition and ending with “Purple Tiger pride, we did it!” before introducing Coleman.
The $15,000 will go toward a new scoreboard for the downstairs gym (an illustration of which was unveiled at the ceremony), new chairs to be used by spectators in that same gym, basketballs, footballs, volleyballs, stickball bats and balls, glass backboards and other fitness equipment, with every school in the district to share in the benefits.
Coleman, relaxing before the program began, said: “The NBA called me because this event is near Syracuse and I never miss an opportunity to come back here. I also went to a town hall meeting at one of the elementary schools in Syracuse with Superintendent (Dan) Lowengard last night. That was important to me. I want to try to help improve the school system in Detroit, where I grew up. I’m an entrepreneur there, opening businesses and helping to renovate neighborhoods. I want to give back. I also helped in Dave Bing’s mayoral campaign.”
Former Pistons and Syracuse star Bing befriended Coleman when he was a teenager, mentored him and was instrumental in his decision to also attend SU.
“This is the second program like this I’ve been involved with,” Coleman said. “I did a Father-and-Son Camp in Detroit which combined basketball and fathers hanging out with their sons, communicating with them. It was great.”
Coleman played for SU for four seasons between 1986 and 1990, made the All-Big East first team his final three years, left as the program’s all-time leading scorer (2,143 points, since surpassed) and had his jersey number, 44, retired in 2006.
The New Jersey Nets made him the top pick in the 1990 NBA Draft, and he spent 15 years in the league with the Nets, 76ers, Hornets and, in his final season, 2004-05, the Pistons. He was Rookie of the Year his first season, a first-team all-star in 1994 and averaged 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds a game in his pro career.
“Being in and with the NBA has been great,” he said with a smile. “I’ve enjoyed it so much, and the people I met in my four years at SU are some of my best friends to this day. As far as know, I’ve never been in Cortland before; we used to travel around and play pre-season games, but the NCAA probably doesn’t allow that now.”
Asked what he’d say to any young person looking for a life lesson, Coleman leaned back, smiled, thought a moment and said “People don’t realize how important athletics are in kids’ lives. They teach you so much — discipline, accountability, leadership, teamwork. I’d tell any young person to get involved in athletics, and to try to enjoy life. Don’t take it as seriously as most people seem to; it’s short, it really is.”
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