By Joel Hall
The City of Riverdale, State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), Clayton County Public Schools, and the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to give hundreds of local students a chance to put their talents on display at Philips Arena, during an upcoming Atlanta Hawks home game.
The Atlanta Hawks will host a Community Night for Clayton County on Saturday, April 3, during the game at 7 p.m., against the Detroit Pistons. A pre-game pep rally hosted by Seay will begin at Philips Arena at 3 p.m., with a step show, sport exhibitions, and other performances by Clayton County students.
According to organizers, a portion of the ticket sales from the event will benefit the Riverdale Youth Council, the Chamber's Clayton Youth Leadership program, and the Superintendent's Scholarship Fund, a program to benefit seniors graduating from the school system.
Riverdale City Councilman Kenny Ruffin said the event grew from "Riverdale Night at the Hawks," an annual program he spearheaded three years ago. He said the program, which has become a countywide event this year, is good "visualization" exercise for the students.
"They get to go out and play at the park, they don't get to play at Philips Arena," Ruffin said. "We want them to think bigger than where they come from.
"I love the fact that we have people at the stave level, the county level, and the local level coming together," he continued. "You can get so much more done when you have greater collaboration with like minds. This is the genesis of a county event that could be a staple every year."
According to Clayton County Public Schools Community Relations Liaison Rhonda Burnough, the Community Night will include a number of performances and exhibitions by Clayton County students, as well as a special treat for the Forest Park High School girls' basketball team, which recently went to the state's class AAAA Final Four.
During the event, from 3 to 4:45 p.m., the North Clayton Middle School boys' basketball team will play the Pointe South Middle School boys, while cheerleaders from Pointe South Middle School perform.
From 5:15 to 5:45 p.m., members of the Forest Park High School girls' basketball team will have the chance to meet and interact with Dominique Wilkins, a former player for the Atlanta Hawks.
From 6:15 to 6:45 p.m., the step teams from Rex Mill Middle School and Riverdale High School -- both winners in the Unity in the Community College Fair and Step Show in February at Charles Drew High School -- will perform before crowds at Philips Arena.
Clayton County students will also be an integral part of the Hawks' game at 7 p.m. Students from the school system will help lead players out of the tunnel at the start of the game, and man the sidelines during the game, and basketball teams from Church Street Elementary and Riverdale Elementary schools will play each other in a six-minute basketball game during the Hawks' half-time show.
Burnough said the event would be a way to recognize the work of the Forest Park High School girls' basketball team, as well as a way for Clayton students to impact a wide audience.
"This was their [the Forest Park High School girls' basketball team's] first trip to the Final Four since 1970," she said. "They'll be recognized for their achievement. They'll also get the chance to meet a professional player. They will be able to hear his struggles ... he can explain to them the rewards he gained in playing [and] the importance of staying in school.
"It's also another way to showcase the excellence of our Clayton County students..." Burnough added. "It will give them a chance to perform before a large audience."
Tickets for the game range from $19.50 to $77 in price, and most tickets include a Chick-fil-A combo meal voucher.
Tickets can be purchase with cash at Riverdale City Hall, the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, or the Clayton County Public Schools Administrative Complex until Monday. Tickets for the Clayton County Community Night game can be requested over the phone until Thursday by calling Kevin Gibson at (404) 878-3846.