chris-bosh_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

MIAMI GARDENS — Miami Heat power forward Christopher “Chris” Wesson Bosh is on a mission to help raise public awareness of a need for after-school programs.

On Dec. 3, the After-School All-Stars’ newest ambassador visited about 120 students at Norland Middle School, 1235 NW 192nd Ter., in Miami Gardens, during their after-school program.

Bosh, who announced his involvement with the After-School All-Stars earlier this year, toured Norland’s classrooms and then fielded questions from students in the program.

“It was natural because I grew up in the after-school system,” Bosh, 26, a native of Hutchins, Texas, said in an interview about becoming involved with the After-School All-Stars. “My parents worked until 6 or 7 o’clock and we had to do something. And there I was able to get help with school work when I needed.”

Norland joined the After-School All-Stars program seven years ago, according to the principal, Eugene Butler Jr., and has established a rich tradition with the program. “And knowing that Bosh is an ambassador makes this a great opportunity for my students, as well as [all of] South Florida,” he said.

After-School All-Stars provides free comprehensive after-school programs to nearly 80,000 children at more than 450 schools in 13 cities. The initiative incorporates academic support, enrichment opportunities and health and fitness activities, primarily for middle school students.

Other celebrity ambassadors include Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and hip-hop artists Common and Fabolous.

“There are more activities and more organization in the programs than when I was a kid,” Bosh said. “It makes a big difference having something positive to become involved in. Watching television and playing video games are okay but must be done in moderation.”

The most important element in an after-school program is that the student’s mind is nourished, Bosh said in the interview. “Kids need the opportunity to learn to exercise their minds, develop a skill. The mind broadens as they grow older and they need to be open to explore different things, decide what they want to do.”

Besides touring after-school programs, Bosh will donate $20 for every rebound he makes during the regular season as a part of the All-Stars’ Hoop Heroes fundraising program for NBA players. This program raises funds to help bring after-school programs to more children across the country.

Bosh told the students that he was an A/B student in middle school. “My parents did not accept bad grades and I wanted to play basketball,” he recalled. “I had no choice because they really didn’t take any stuff.”

In order to play basketball well, he told the students, reading is required. “It’s more than showing up every night to play the game,” he said. “It takes comprehension. There are rules, playbooks, contracts and work off the court. You have to work hard at all of it. It won’t happen overnight.”

While he was growing up, he said, he knew a lot of guys who played basketball well, adding, “But they did not make good grades and that hurt them. They were not allowed to play. Even in college, they banked on basketball and not an education.”

“You must broaden your minds; think about things other than sports,” he told the students. “You must be smart about preparing for your future.”

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JAMES FORBES/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES. KEEPING IT REAL: Chris Bosh answers questions from students in Norland Middle School’s After School All Stars program Dec. 3 during a visit to the Miami Gardens school. He told them an education is important even if they want to play basketball.