Agassi honored by Ripken, hopes to expand charter school operation to Baltimore

Former tennis pro has developed a successful academy in Las Vegas

February 25, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

Cal Ripken Jr. likes to joke than he and Andre Agassi have a lot more in common than the fact that they're both bald, retired athletes.

They're both passionate about raising money and creating opportunities to help kids reach their potential. In fact, Agassi is someone who has inspired Ripken in many ways during his retirement. Friday at the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation's 7th Annual Aspire Gala, the Orioles Hall of Famer sought to honor the tennis legend for his work in education, and at the same time raise money for his own charitable foundation.

"Having someone of Andre's stature here is wonderful for the foundation," Ripken said. "I really like him for what he does off the court. I liked him as an athlete, and I was fascinated by his [autobiography], so I just wanted to see if we could honor him. I reached out to him and said we'd like to honor him, and he came back right away and said he'd be glad to do it. So we're thrilled to have him here."

More than 700 people attended the event at the Marriott Waterfront, an annual gathering that has become one of the area's biggest single-day fundraisers. It also marked the 10th year since the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation was formed by Ripken Jr. and his brother, Bill Ripken, as a way to honor their father. In addition to getting a picture with Agassi and Ripken, guests could bid on a number of items donated by celebrities, including everything from an autographed copy of Billy Joel's "Glass Houses" album, to a jersey worn by Robert Redford in the baseball movie "The Natural."

"It's hard to believe it's been 10 years," Ripken said. "We started out trying to help one kid at a time as a way to honor dad. But it's amazing in the 10 years how it's grown to be a national organization. We're very, very proud of what we've been able to accomplish, and it seems like we're just getting started."

Agassi has certainly set an impressive example for Ripken and other athletes to aspire to. His K-12 charter school in Las Vegas, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, is one of the great success stories in charity work and education. In one of the most economically depressed areas of Las Vegas, Agassi helped raise money to build a $40 million campus and has already graduated two classes in which every single kid went on to attend college.

"We have the fifth largest school district and it's one of the worst in America at sending kids to college," Agassi said. "So we decided to bring some resources and bring some accountability and give it to those children and see what would happen. And sure enough, they didn't disappoint us."

Through his foundation, Agassi is about to take his charter school approach to education nationwide, pouring $150 million into several urban areas, and though he said he could not divulge too many details about his plans, Baltimore is one of the cities where he plans to use some of that money.

"We're coming right here to Baltimore," Agassi said. "It's just about partnering with the best charter school operators and giving them the ability to remove the facility component, because facilities are the biggest cost. I can't really discuss it yet, but what I can say is that I have $150 million to deploy, and part of that is coming straight here to Baltimore. For a lot of reasons, this is where my vision best plays out."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

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