SportSouth, CIS team with Hornets to give high schoolers once-in-a-lifetime experience

Hornets center Al Jefferson met with Communities in Schools students before Monday's game against the Timberwolves. 


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The goal of the Charleston, S.C., branch, as it is with each program associated with Communities In Schools (CIS), is to help at-risk students be better prepared to excel in everyday life.

On Monday, SportSouth and the Charlotte Hornets teamed up to give 20 high schoolers from the CIS program in Charleston a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As a reward for having achieved personal goals at their individual high schools, the students were provided with a behind-the-scenes experience by being able to go into the tunnels where the players enter and exit, as well as get a chance to meet Hornets star center Al Jefferson and take a tour of the SportSouth production truck to see how a live TV show is broadcasted.

"Definitely the best experience was going in the (production) truck," said Mack Patterson, 16, who is a student at Stall High School. "It was cool seeing how quick they do everything and all the editing."

CIS is a program that is in 26 states and gives personal attention, guidance and a male role model to participants that might not otherwise have any of those aspects. In Charleston alone, there are some 13,000 students affiliated with the program form high-poverty schools.

The program is geared toward keeping the students from dropping out of high school and to graduate. Last year alone, 95 percent of those graduated from high school, with 88 percent enrolling in college and another 10 percent joining the military.

"It’s all in our best interest to help them be productive members of society, because if we don’t we’re going to be paying for them later," said Steve Liverani, who has been with CIS for five years after having been retired as the general manager of FOX Sports Florida.

This marks the third year that the Hornets and SportSouth have hosted the kids from Charleston. Liverani said this type of experience will last with them forever.

"Two years ago, when we were headed home, a kid said to me, ‘This was the best day of my life.’ I still get chills thinking about it," Liverani said. "It’s about giving these kids an opportunity that they may never have again. …

"This is about a relationship with (FOX Sports South and SportSouth senior vice president and general manager) Jeff (Genthner) that I’m fortunate to have. I can’t thank the Hornets and FOX Sports enough. It says to me there are people who understand and care what we’re doing and it means a lot."

The 20 kids got to welcome the Minnesota Timberwolves onto the court prior to the game by forming a tunnel that the players ran through. Even so, Patterson wasn’t alone in his thoughts about the best part of the day.

"My favorite part was going into the truck," said Patrick Cunningham, a 14-year-old from North Charleston High. "I liked seeing how they connect it all together."

However, Cunningham did admit that he’s not exactly an NBA or basketball fan.

Even so, the experience was about showing the kids something that they’ve never seen, as well as taking them to a city many have never visited.

"A lot of our kids never leave the area, so crossing the state line is huge," said Derek Toth, one of the chaperones, who’s been with CIS for six years. "It gets them out of their comfort zone and gets them excited about things in the future."

While getting a unique experience is fun and a reward, the day is about so much more.

"It gives me a lot of confidence," Patterson said. "I’m usually down on myself, but (CIS) gives me the confidence that I can get to where I want to be in life."