Players slam dunk the message: Stay in school

March 26, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Even after Washington Bullets forward Don MacLean threw in the winning jumper from the top of the key, Old Mill North sixth-grader Tim Smith was unimpressed.

"You got lucky," Tim told his 6-foot-9 tormentor, earning himself a trip to the line for two "game-winning" free throws of his own.

Except he missed.

Tim's classmates hooted, but Tim took in stride. It was all part of yesterday's lesson, and part of the National Basketball Association's Stay In School Program.

"They [his classmates] say I'm no good because I missed the foul shots, but it's hard because of all the pressure," Tim said.

The pressure to drop out of school was the theme of the Stay In School rally for the Old Mill North sixth graders. The rally, emceed by WMAR-TV sportscaster Keith Mills, is the sixth sponsored by the Bullets this year.

Mr. MacLean and Tom Gugliotta, another Bullets rookie, encouraged the students to finish their educations, then took on three boys and three girls in a three-on-two competition.

Mr. Gugliotta, who dropped out of North Carolina State University last year to join the NBA, took a pledge with the students to stay in school, complete homework assignments and listen to teachers. Mr. Gugliotta said he hopes to complete the four classes he needs to graduate this summer "because what happens if I get hurt next year, or when I retire [from basketball] in 10 years?"

"I made up my mind when I was 6 or 7 that I wanted to be a professional basketball player," said Mr. MacLean, a UCLA graduate and the school's all-time leading scorer. But "no matter how many hours I [practiced], I wouldn't be a player if I didn't stay in junior high, stay in high school, stay in college. The students that realize that at an early age will be that much further ahead of everyone else."

A 1975 graduate of Brooklyn Park High, Mr. Mills, the sports broadcaster, said he always thought he would be a professional baseball player, so he never gave school much thought. One day, his coach, Tim McMullen (now athletic director at Broadneck High School), "pulled me aside and said, 'Keith, you're not that good.' He did me a favor."

The NBA began organizing its Stay In School Program in 1989 to combat the increasing number of teen-age dropouts. Nationally, 30 percent of all high school students don't graduate, Mr. Mills said.

Old Mill North is one of five Anne Arundel middle schools -- and one of 35 in the entire Washington-Baltimore corridor -- participating in the program, which includes incentives like Bullets tickets and T-shirts.

The stars of yesterday's rally were the Bullets rookies, who also signed autographs and answered questions. The most commonly asked questions: What size shoe do you wear? (15) Can you dunk? (Yes) Do you know Michael Jordan? (Doesn't everyone?)

While waiting for the sixth-graders to assemble in the school gymnasium, the two talked about their dual jobs as basketball players and role models.

"I think other people should be looked up to besides athletes, but the fact is whether it's good or not, they listen to what we have to say," said Mr. MacLean.

Mr. Gugliotta said it is important to let the students know "that we were going through the same things that they are when we were kids."

ZTC

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