The presence of a cheering Gorilla at Mesa’s Westwood High School could mean one thing: Something big was about to happen.
Students at the high school filed in together Monday morning for an assembly. But it was the student-athletes in the basketball programs that may have received the biggest surprise.
Months after having uniforms, equipments and personal items stolen from the school on the eve of its latest season, CenturyLink and the Phoenix Suns came to the school to present it with the grand prize – a $5,000 grant to help fund replacement items and more for the school.
It was part of the businesses’ Team Assist program, the second year of the two groups coming together to help student athletic programs in the Valley.
Mesa’s Westwood was one of five semi-finalists and had already received $1,000.
“Westwood did a very good job in writing its grant proposal,” said CenturyLink spokesman Alex Juarez, noting how the proposal included information about the theft. “They had a major loss there. They wrote it very well in asking for community help. In paying it forward, the kids from the school went into the community and donated many hours. We felt the proposal was very well written and the acts of kindness and work in the community deserved to be the award-winning program.”
Suns alumnus and color commentator, Tim Kempton, and Suns broadcaster, Tom Leander, were there, as well as CenturyLink Vice President and General Manager, Ken McMahon, who presented the check to the basketball programs at the end of the assembly.
Westwood’s athletic director Reggie Castro said the perpetrators of the crime were never found.
“It wasn’t easy. It was a frustration for sure. They never caught the people who did it. We just had to do better of securing items, locking doors and locking items. There was some damage to the facility when they did steal it,” he said.
The school had some extra uniforms to get through its season, but also ordered a few.
About 90 students participate in boys and girls basketball programs at the school, Castro said.
The school hasn’t decided how it will spend the grant money. It could fund more uniforms, as well as new backboards.
“We’ve been braining storming,” he said. “We’re not totally sure just yet.”
Junior varsity coach Richard Long wrote the application and was part of Monday’s event, which was a bit hit with the students.
“They thought it was awesome. They were going crazy, especially when the Gorilla came out with the dancers and cheerleaders. It was pretty cool. There was a lot of energy,” Castro said.
Juarez said applications for the next Team Assist grant program will be available in the fall, before the Suns’ basketball season begins.
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