By Curt Yeomans
Lewis Academy of Excellence is in its fifth school year of operation, and yet it will mark a new chapter in its history today, when its first-ever basketball team takes the court against Clayton County Elementary School League opponent, Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School.
It will be the first game of the 2009-2010 basketball season for both teams.
Cheering from court side will be another new group for Lewis Academy - its inaugural cheerleading squad.
The school will celebrate its new teams with a pep rally today during school. The school's co-ed basketball team will then tip off its first game, at home, at 4 p.m. There is no admission cost for the game. The school is located at 8009 Carlton Rd., in Riverdale.
"It's the first time we've ever done this, so it's great to be the trailblazers for this school," Lewis Academy of Excellence Head Basketball Coach Rick Brookens said. "I tell these kids that even when this school is 50 years old, they'll still be the first [basketball payers]."
Cheerleading squad Assistant Coach Tameika Nelson said the idea for the basketball team and the cheerleading squad came from Lewis Academy of Excellence's founder, Patricia Lewis, who wanted an athletic and social outlet for the students to complement the school's more academic and artistic organizations.
"Dr. Lewis had a vision to have a basketball team and a cheerleading squad, and so she came to us in late July, and asked us to put it together," Nelson said.
Tryouts for the teams were held in August, with 98 female students trying out for the cheerleading squad, and 48 students (males and females) trying out for the basketball team, according to coaches from both groups. From those students, the coaches said they whittled the groups down to a team of 13 basketball players and a squad of 29 cheerleaders.
To participate in either team, the coaches said the students had to demonstrate not only talent, but a willingness to learn the plays and cheers. The students also must maintain a "C" average in their classes to continue participating in either group, Head Cheerleading Coach Luvenia Allen-Jones said.
There are nine teams in the Clayton County Elementary School League, including Lewis Academy of Excellence and Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School. The other schools are Church Street Elementary School; E.W. Oliver Elementary School; Fountain Elementary School; Lake Ridge Elementary School; Northcutt Elementary School; Pointe South Elementary School, and Riverdale Elementary School.
The basketball season begins today for all but Riverdale Elementary School, which has the week off, according to a league schedule. The season will conclude on Feb. 18, 2010.
"I'm looking forward to our first game, because this is my first time playing on a school team," said Lewis Academy of Excellence fifth-grader, Isaac Lagarde, 10, a point guard and shooting guard on the basketball team. "I've learned a lot in the last month. I learned how to pivot, how to attack the zone, and I learned the options [plays]."
Basketball teammate Dajon Dennis, 10, a fifth-grader and wing player on the team, added that he felt "like a leader because I'm on the first Lewis Academy basketball team."
Fifth-grader Zakiya Thompson, 10, a member of the cheerleading squad, said she feels "excited and blessed" to be part of a milestone for the school. She added that it's been a challenge to learn the squad's eight cheers over the past month, though. "You have to be focused, and you have to do your best, and you have to have fun to be successful at this," she said.
Another cheerleader, third-grader Jordan Morris, 8, added, "It's been good so far, although it was a little hard at first, just trying to learn all of the steps, but it's gotten easier with practice."
Cheerleading squad Captain Courtney James, 8, a third-grader at the school, said it can be a challenge to lead a large group of 29 females, and get them organized. "It's not easy enough for the other girls to hear me all the time," she said. "I'm learning to project my voice more, though. It's fun to be the captain because I get to say the cheers. I like to do cheers in front of people, and to do my best."
Allen-Jones said she has high hopes for both the basketball team, and cheerleading squad. She said the excitement has been building among the students as their first game approached, and she is hoping that it will translate into strong performances on the basketball court.
"It's pretty exciting to be the first [basketball team and cheerleading squad] in school history," Allen-Jones said. "I think they're going to live up to their school's name, which is 'Excellence.'"