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James keeps focus on today’s youth at rally

8/14/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

LeBron addresses the crowd during the Welcome Home LeBron Celebration Aug. 8 at InfoCision Stadium.
LeBron James walks to the stage with his family.
Nicole Curtis, host of the HGTV program “Rehab Addict,” is shown above being introduced by Cleveland Cavs announcer Ahmaad Crump. Curtis and her team helped LeBron James, his foundation and volunteers renovate the home of Wheels for Education student Mariah Riley, who is shown below near left speaking at the event.
Members of the LeBron James Grandmother’s Fan Club cheer at the event.
In a press conference before the event, James was asked what it meant to have 30,000 fans attending his welcoming ceremony. “It’s pretty amazing. I’m not going to say it’s not,” he said.
Photos: Scott Horstman
DOWNTOWN AKRON — At InfoCision Stadium Aug. 8, Akron welcomed back LeBron James. The night was a celebration, a pop concert and likely the biggest “Stay in School” assembly this area has ever seen.

A crowd of around 30,000, many wearing LeBron-themed T-shirts, attended the event, which featured speakers such as Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and The University of Akron’s new president, Scott Scarborough. Music was provided by members of the Boys & Girls Club and by recording artist Skylar Grey.

Grey sang “I’m Coming Home,” which has become the unofficial song of James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four seasons in Miami.

“She almost knew I was coming home before I knew I was coming home,” said James.

Also taking the stage were Cavs General Manager David Griffin and Austin Carr, the former Cavs star and longtime member of its broadcasting team. And while video footage of James “throwing the hammer down” was shown on the InfoCision scoreboard, the event was not a Cavaliers pep rally. More time was spent acknowledging James’ philanthropic work, particularly his work with children.

Given special seating at the event were Akron Public Schools students taking part in Wheels for Education (WFE), a program begun by the LeBron James Family Foundation in 2011. According to the media release, the program “targets third graders and follows them through to graduation, providing them with the programs, support and mentors they need for success in school.”

“Today and tonight is for the kids,” said James, who led the program’s Class of 2021 and Class of 2024 in their respective “I Promise” pledges. Both the elementary and middle-school pledges end with a promise to finish school.

James spoke of how he and his friends had dreams growing up, just like the young people of today.

“The reasons our dreams were able to become reality is because we had mentors and families and fathers and moms that allowed our dreams to become possible,” he said.

For James and his St. Vincent-St. Mary High School (STVM) teammates, one of those mentors was STVM basketball coach Dru Joyce. Joyce said he often told James he was destined to do great things outside of basketball, as well as on the court.

“One of those things is the joy that you bring to people,” he told James.

Another guest at the ceremony was Nicole Curtis, host of the HGTV program “Rehab Addict.” After an awkward start — she had difficulty leading the crowd in the “O-H-I-O” chant, something James would have more success with later — she immediately won back the crowd while discussing the James Foundation’s PROMISE Project. Working with Curtis and her team, James, his foundation and volunteers have renovated the home of WFE student Mariah Riley and spruced up the yards of nine other students.

“LeBron gets dirty,” said Curtis. “He’s been painting; he’s been doing everything you could imagine in the house.

In a press conference before the event, James was asked what it meant to have 30,000 fans attending his welcoming ceremony.

“It’s pretty amazing. I’m not going to say it’s not,” he said. “To see that you inspire so many people, from youth all the way up to a grandma’s club with 200-plus members. To be able to give them hope and inspiration on a day-to-day basis means a lot to me.”

Illona Aleman, a member of the LeBron James Grandmother’s Fan Club since 2007, attended the ceremony.

“My favorite part was when he said, ‘It was all about the kids, not about me.’ He’s a giver, and I’m so proud of him,” she said.

Tisha Lupe, of Akron, also was impressed by the event.

“LeBron is amazing. He really is a good role model for the kids and for the parents, and that’s what made it even better,” she said. “My daughter was in tears by the time we left, she was so overwhelmed with happiness.”

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