The good news keeps coming for LeBron James’ groundbreaking I Promise School in his native Akron, Ohio. Following April reports that the school was already yielding incredible results in its first year, the NBA star surprised I Promise students by announcing that they’d be receiving a brand new gym, thanks to a $1 million grant from Dick Sporting Goods, as part of the Sports Matter program.
James made the announcement in the gym of his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, saying:
“To my kids, this is more than a gym. The Dick’s Sports Matter program is helping us provide even more opportunities. An opportunity to play and learn in a safe place that many don’t have access to. I can’t imagine where my friends and I would be if it weren’t for the coaches and teachers who cared about us and the opportunities we had.”
It’s a well-earned reward following significant academic improvement and achievement by I Promise, a public school founded in partnership with Akron Public Schools and the LeBron James Family Foundation. In its inaugural year, the school welcomed 240 of Akron Public School’s most at-risk 3rd and 4th graders, who began the 2018-19 school year in the bottom 25th percentile and were performing below grade level. Currently, 90 percent are “meeting or exceeding individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing peers across the district,” according to a statement.
The same statement cites data that indicates kids who are physically active and play sports tend to have 40 percent higher test scores on average and are 15 percent more likely to attend college (h/t the Aspen Institute). However, a lack of facilities and funding often means these life-changing opportunities aren’t afforded to children in low-income communities; in fact, while the U.S. Dept. of Education indicates active kids are four times more likely to attend college (pdf), Up2Us Sports reports disenfranchised kids are four times more likely to discontinue sports due to prohibitive costs. Compounding this is the fact that, in recent years, billions have been cut from school sports programs.
Founded in 2014, Sports Matter seeks to level the playing field and combat the funding crisis, benefitting thousands of school athletic programs through a $50 million pledge.
“I believe the sky is the limit for these kids and the results we’re seeing are just the beginning,” said James. “Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation believes in the opportunities and values sports provide, and I’ve experienced that at every level. I saw it growing up with my teammates and I see it with my kids now. The benefits of playing sports can extend to every aspect of your life, and I’m excited we’re able to provide a space for that growth at the I Promise School.”