Back Where The Dream Began, Kawhi Leonard Delivers

by Charlie Widdoes

A once bustling courtyard falls quiet on Cloverdale Elementary’s campus about 80 miles outside of Los Angeles in Moreno Valley. Only the sounds of a few pattering feet can be heard filing into their assigned classroom moments after the school bell sounded.

The PA system clicks on...

Good morning, students! We have a big day ahead of us…

Just as quickly as the students arrived at their second week of school, they’re back outside and in single-file lines in every open space available.

The once quiet courtyard is roaring again… but unlike 30 minutes ago, it’s no longer students in their usual school attire, but a sea of red number twos.

Cloverdale Elementary isn’t just any elementary school in Moreno Valley, it’s the former elementary school of honor roll student and LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard. Nearly two decades after sitting in the classrooms at Cloverdale, the NBA superstar was returning to make an announcement that would level the playing field for Los Angeles and Moreno Valley students.

Well ahead of usual hours, the Cloverdale cafeteria is packed to capacity, clad with red, white and blue balloons, Clippers logos, a podium and an active and enthusiastic Kid Condor.

Cloverdale Elementary principal Genaro García steps to the podium and draws the attention of staff and students. The cafeteria gradually falls silent.

“Here at Cloverdale, our credo is to be leaders by example and we can think of no better example than the one we have up here… Being a leader by example, Lions, that means we do the right thing even when no one is… ”

“Watching!” the students respond.

“That’s right,” Principal Garcia says, ”We’re so excited to have a special guest this morning for a special surprise, we’re welcoming home Cloverdale alum Mr. Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers.”

The look on the students faces as Kawhi is introduced is what you’d expect. Some staring at their neighbor mouths agape in complete surprise. Others clapping, cheering, pointing and saying “Kawhi! It’s Kawhi Leonard! Look!”

It’s not only the kids who are star struck. Faculty members with phones in hand try to get a snap of the hometown superstar.

The cafeteria is buzzing with excitement as President of Business Operations Gillian Zucker takes to the podium next.

“Coming home to SoCal, Kawhi is focused on making an impact, not only on the court but off the court as well. And today, right here, right now, he’s getting to work.” Zucker begins.

“Kawhi wanted to do something special for everyone of you, so I am very excited to announce that every student at Cloverdale Elementary will receive this brand new backpack to start the school year.”

After the cheering and excitement reaches its peak, Zucker continues, “But Kawhi didn’t want to stop there. So get this because of Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, every student in the Moreno Valley Unified School District will also get this brand new backpack. All 35,000 kids!”

If the cheering for Kawhi’s introduction was a ten, the backpack announcement was an eleven. Students are screaming and cheering as loud as their little bodies can. The phones return to the hands of faculty members taking photos as Zucker holds up the backpack and Kawhi cracks a smile.

“Do you want to thank him?” Zucker asks. The adolescent crowd cheers louder.

Kawhi approaches the podium and delivers a simple message.

“I’m happy to be here. This is where it all started for me at Cloverdale. This is where the dream began. I know how hard it is for parents and students at the start of the school year, so I wanted to start here today by giving away a million backpacks to Southern California and to every student here today.” says Leonard.

“That’s one of my goals this year is to help on and off the court in a great way and I felt like this would be a great way to start. I hope you guys know the Clippers have your backs so long as you put in the work. Like I always say, just be great.”

The cafeteria buzz is back, boxes are rolled in and every student begins to line-up to receive their brand new Clippers backpack.

One by one, Kawhi Leonard hands a backpack to every Cloverdale Elementary student in attendance. The student reactions vary as they receive their new gift, from being shy to a hugging embrace, but one theme remains consistent, a smile, a thank you and pure happiness. The feeling is mutual.

The cafeteria clears out and all of the red number two shirts make their way back to class with a new backpack in hand. While it’s business as usual for the remainder of the day at Cloverdale, one thing is certain, the impact and memories of this morning’s special event and surprise guest are sure to be great.

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