By Perry Green, AFRO Sports Editorpgreen@afro.com

NBA superstar LeBron James may be heading to Los Angeles to play with the Lakers next season, but he won’t be leaving his home state of Ohio without blessing it first.

The former Cleveland Cavaliers star opened up a his own elementary public school on Monday to exclusively serve low-income and/or at-risk youths, like James was when he was growing up in the area.

LeBron James speaks at a news conference after the opening ceremony for the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, July 30. The I Promise School is supported by the The LeBron James Family Foundation and is run by the Akron Public Schools. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

The school, built in Akron, Ohio, the same city James was raised in, was funded by the LeBron James Family Foundation and the I Promise Foundation, another foundation started by James.

Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, told USAToday that the school was modeled and designed to address the same challenges that LeBron faced years ago when he was getting an education in Akron’s public schools. James has always testified that without a strong support system around him, he would’ve never made it out of Akron.

“LeBron missed a lot of school in the fourth grade. It’s well-documented,” Campbell said. “We all know which path he took. He took the right path with some very good people around him and now we know him as the world’s best basketball player. He could’ve taken the other road, and we would’ve never known LeBron James. He would’ve been a statistic like a lot of students who drop out of school.

“Every one of these kids, maybe they don’t become LeBron James on the basketball court, but they become the LeBron James of their passion and dream in life,” Campbell continued, according to USAToday. “We’re coming to them at a time when people came to LeBron and Gloria and wrapped around them and believed in them before he was this great basketball player.”

According to reports, the I Promise school will have 240 students in the third and fourth grade; the school will add second and fifth grade next year, and will continue to expand each year until its fully stocked from first grade through to eight grade.

Keith Liechty, the Akron Public Schools’ liaison to James’ foundation, told USAToday that LeBron’s school selected students with the worst test scores to attend the school, in attempt of focusing on youths who need the most support.

“From that, we had more than 120 kids,” Liechty said. “We had to put a cap on it so we could fit under one roof. We did a random selection of all students who met that criteria and got to make these awesome phone calls to parents and say, ‘How would you like to be part of something different, the I Promise School.”

James isn’t the first famous athlete to open up a school in their community – former San Antonio Spurs star David Robinson founded Carver Academy, a Christian private school in San Antonio Texas. Former Phoenix Suns star and former Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson founded charter schools in Sacramento and former Michigan “Fab Five” member and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose also opened up charter schools in his hometown, Detroit. Rose said on ESPN Monday that he credits James for popularizing something that celebrity athletes have done in their respective communities before, yet didn’t garner as much attention because they weren’t as famous as LeBron.

But one difference between LeBron’s new school and the schools that were built by other celebs is that James’ school is 100 percent public, not a charter school. The school’s days will also be much longer than typical school days, lasting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to ensure students receive the extra attention they need.

“We are going to be that groundbreaking school that will be a nationally recognized model for urban and public school excellence,” I Promise principal and Akron native Brandi Davis told USAToday. “We are letting people know it is about true wrap-around support, true family integration and true compassion.”

Perry Green

AFRO Sports Editor