LeBron James touted education, not sports, as he made his first local appearance since the Olympics at the Akron Aeros minor league baseball game on Sunday.
Only a couple of fans yelled “traitor” as the former Cleveland Cavalier unveiled the second class of Akron third-graders to be part of his family’s Wheels for Education nonprofit.
The children received bikes, helmets and school uniforms at the Time to Promise kickoff event.
“These kids mean a lot to me,” James told the appreciative but sparse crowd at Canal Park as rain occasionally fell. “I’m glad I’m in a position to be able to help them.”
Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic also unveiled the newest honor to Akron’s most famous resident — blue and white signs that will be posted at nine major entrances to Akron that proclaim the city his home.
“For my money, he’s the greatest Akronite because he cares about Akron,” Plusquellic said.
Wheels for Education is an outgrowth of James’ annual bikeathon. The initiative by the LeBron James Family Foundation aims to encourage third-graders to stay in school, lead healthy lifestyles, listen to their teachers and eventually graduate.
A Harvard study indicated that third grade is the time when students begin to lose interest in school and in Akron Public Schools, that lack of interest translates into a 24 percent dropout rate.
Akron Superintendent David James said school officials will be scrutinizing the spring standardized test scores for the first class of Wheels for Education students. Test results for those 342 students will be available in a couple of weeks, the superintendent said.
“We’ll be looking at them with a fine-tooth comb” to see whether the Wheels for Education students fared any better than their peers, James said.
The children may start the school year with an edge. They already took part in a two-week “camp” of intensive reading and computer schools that was sponsored by the foundation.
Kids take pledge
On Sunday, the children also took a public pledge, complete with a black “promise” wrist band, to follow James’ lead and stay in school.
Katrina Kisner said she was grateful that her daughter, Kailey, was selected for the second class because the program will bolster her computer skills.
Kailey and her peers will get more than that, though — they also will be monitored throughout the school year by Akron high school students who volunteer with the James family foundation.
Some children already have their sights set high. JáNiyah Hershberger, daughter of Ashley Hershberger, said she wants to be a policewoman or a basketball player.
“I’m happy because I got to see LeBron James,” JáNiyah said. “Happy about the bike.”
James came to Akron fresh with his second gold medal from the Olympics and his first NBA title, which he won with the Miami Heat. His mother, Gloria, and fiancee, Savannah Brinson, were with him at the Akron event.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.