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The Met High Pumas: Winning on and off the Court

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MET HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

A few weeks ago, you may have seen the shot below featured as the number one play on ESPN SportsCenter's "Top 10 Plays of the Day."

The 60-foot field goal electrified sports fans everywhere -- not just because it featured 16-year-old Jerrbryon Graves beating out Kobe Bryant and LeBron James for the top spot, but also because of his cool demeanor afterward, reacting as if his unbelievable buzzer beater was just another day at the office. For Jerrbryon and the rest of the Indianapolis Met Pumas, that shot was indeed just another step in one of the year's most remarkable sports stories.

Indianapolis Metropolitan High School (Met High) is a public charter school that educates some of the city's students most in need of extra support and guidance. Eighty percent are from families with low incomes and most come to the school at least two grade levels behind. The charter school has no gym, and it also had no basketball team until four years ago. The Pumas lost their first two games in massive blowouts, 74-26 and 102-48, and notched losing seasons every year until this one.

The team has only eight players, all of whom take the city bus to and from school. Because they have no school gym, they practice in public parks. With a limited athletic budget, they have no practice jerseys, towels or medical bags. Yet, somehow, something clicked this year, and the Pumas kept winning. They upset team after team in the state tournament. "The Shot" sent them into semi-state and they went on to win the Class A championship at Conseco Fieldhouse.

As an Indiana native, I can tell you that high school basketball is not taken lightly here, and for an upstart team like this one to win the state championship is no small feat. But I'm even more impressed with this stat: all eight members of the team are on track to graduate with their class on June 4, 2011.

Met High, which was established in 2004 by Goodwill Education Initiatives, provides an educational opportunity that did not exist in the city before. Every student receives an individual learning plan and works at their own pace, in small classes, giving each student close instruction and the tools they need to succeed. The approach has already paid dividends. The school's four-year graduation rate is higher than that of any high school in the state that has open enrollment during which at least 80 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Ninety-six percent of graduates are accepted into post-secondary institutions. One member of the Pumas, Anthony Jackson, has signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at Purdue North Central, a first for a Met High graduate.

I can't help but think that the Pumas' success this year was due, at least in part, to the atmosphere of success they enjoy in the classroom. With debates raging around the country about how much states and localities can afford to provide to education, the unprecedented success of the Pumas -- both on and off the court -- proves that every student can win if they're surrounded by the right resources and people who believe in them.

Next year, Met High will have one more resource to work with: Goodwill Education Initiatives is spearheading a $2.6 million campaign to build the Pumas their very own gym. It will be ready in time to graduate another class of seniors next spring.

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