C's Host Step Your Game Up Final Party

Jared Sullinger spends time with students who improved their grades, attendance and/or behavior this past school year.

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics partnered with City Year to create the Step Your Game Up Program, aimed at encouraging Boston’s most at-risk youth to reach for better academic success. Now in its second year, the program has worked with more than 600 students in an effort to change their academic trajectory.

In January, 365 students signed a contract written by Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo that stated that they would improve their grades, attendance and/or behavior. The students were given special rewards such as game tickets and a bowling party with Celtics players if they were successful at achieving their goals.

More than 100 of the most improved youth from the 12 Boston Public Schools in the program were invited to attend a carnival-themed party at City Year Headquarters in early June. Upon arrival, the students received a Step Your Game Up wristband and a raffle ticket. These special students were treated to a candy bar, an ice cream bar donated from Ben and Jerry’s, and a burger bar donated by b.good. The room was also scattered with arcade basketball games, a photo booth, a fortune teller, a large Wii station, face painting and a trail mix bar that resulted in donations to the Pine Street Inn, which helps the homeless. Raffle prizes would be given out to lucky students throughout the event.

Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger and mascot Lucky also attended the party and spent time with every student in attendance. The event served as a reward for the kids so that they can look back on their academic improvements and be encouraged to continue their progress.

The group sat around a stage at City Year as the founder of the Step Your Game Up program, Judy Pagliuca, congratulated them for their hard work throughout the school year. Sullinger then spoke to the students about his own experience as a student athlete.

“During my sophomore year in high school I wasn’t always doing my best in the classroom but I thought that because of basketball my teachers would kind of look past it,” he said. “One day as I was sitting in class, I was called to the principal’s office. Walking in I thought I was going to receive an award because my principal was there along with the athletic director and my coach who was my father. Well as it turns out I was going to be benched for a state tournament game because my grades weren’t sufficient. My team ended up losing that game and I felt like I let them down. Because I couldn’t get my act together in school I ruined the biggest game in my career to that point. That day was a turning point for me and taught me that if I didn’t make education a priority, I wouldn’t be able to play basketball. It’s because of school that I am where I am today.”

Following Sullinger’s story, a most improved student from each school was presented with a team autographed ball and a personalized plaque. Some students in that group experienced dramatic turnarounds, including one who started the program with a D average and finished with an A- while another student increased their attendance and went from a 62 average to making all A’s and B’s. All of the awarded students then took a picture with Lucky, Sullinger and the 2008 championship trophy.

Those students received a special gift, but every student who attended was given a personalized Step Your Game Up sweatshirt. That sweatshirt is intended to remind the youngsters that they can defeat any obstacle that is in their way.

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