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Cellular South launches program to help student athletes

JACKSON — Although it’s the largest privately held wireless provider in the U.S., Cellular South has a new plan that has nothing to do with selling cell phones. It’s called Gameplan and the mission is to increase the college admission success rate for Mississippi high school student athletes.

Cellular South teamed up with the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA), the State Department of Education and Sports Dreammakers to launch the in-school program designed to inspire, prepare and inform teenage athletes about college opportunities and the possibilities of reaching their dreams through academic excellence. The goal is to help more than 90,000 Mississippi high school athletes understand NCAA academic standards and scholarship funding opportunities while providing the tools to master the skills necessary to be successful.

“At Cellular South, we are dedicated to helping provide Mississippi’s youth the ongoing support they need to succeed,” said Hu Meena, president and CEO of Cellular South. “We realize the potential of thousands of high school student athletes throughout the state and are excited to launch the Cellular South Gameplan to make the dream of attending college a reality for so many talented young athletes.”

Seeing a need

In announcing the program, Meena noted Cellular South’s 19 years as a part of the Mississippi communities it serves. “We understand our neighbors; their ups and their downs; their successes as well as their struggles,” he said. “We’ve also recognized an important educational need in our state and have decided to dedicate the resources to assist high school students who face many challenges; most importantly the challenge of balancing athletics with academics while preparing for college.”

While many student athletes score big with winning grades and college acceptance, too many miss out on college because their grades, course load and American College Test scores don’t meet NCAA requirements.

The Cellular South Gameplan will help students prepare through a series of in-school educational workshops and follow-up sessions. Each workshop will include a specially designed curriculum that provides students with information on the necessary course and grade point average requirements needed to meet those standards.

Also, students will receive tools and training on a variety of topics ranging from goal setting to NCAA Clearinghouse eligibility. Follow-up counseling sessions will be available for additional support to help students continue on the right path toward college success.

Workshops will be held at 25 high schools by the end of the school year in May, then continue in the fall with 100 completed by May 2008, according to Jim Richmond, director of corporate communications for Cellular South.

“It’s a really good program and we’re excited about it,” he said. “We’ve always been dedicated to the folks in our footprint, and the educational system is a keen interest to the population in general in Mississippi.”

When deciding on a large scale program to give back to the state’s communities, Richmond said it seemed like a natural to combine education with the state’s passion for sports. “One of our platforms is education, and we wanted to design a program to help individuals and education,” he said. “It ties in with folks out there and creates a lot of interest.”

He said the program is similar to an American Association of Universities basketball program. Cellular South contracted with a company to put on the workshops, which Richmond says are motivational and inspiring. “They’re upbeat and encourage students to move to the next level,” he said. “We will work closely with school counselors, coaches and principals and try to enhance what they’re doing.”

The purpose of Gameplan is not to tutor but rather to help students understand what they must do to meet college entrance requirements. “We will work with educators and we’ll help students fill out forms,” he said. “As students get older, we’ll help them package themselves to colleges.”
Richmond stresses that although Gameplan focuses on student athletes, the program is open to all students and all are welcome to participate.

“We hope to motivate students at an earlier age to go to college and to do things such as taking the ACT early on to prepare,” he said. “Our goal is to help more students go to college. We’re really dedicated to this program.”

Cellular South has invested $150,000 in the program for the first year and over a four-year period the investment will be a half-million.

“We’re determined to make it successful and hope to get to all schools,” Richmond said. “However, students do not have to wait for a workshop at their school. They can visit our Web site at www.cellularsouthgameplan.com or www.cellularsouth.com to learn more about Gameplan.”

Key partnerships

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds said educating today’s young people cannot be the sole responsibility of schools.

“It takes business, industry, the community and schools working in partnership,” he said. “We have seen lots of examples of this over the past year. I appreciate Cellular South getting in the game to help our student athletes graduate and fulfill their academic potential while excelling in their athletic endeavors.”

Another Gameplan partner, the MHSAA is honored to be a part of the program, according to Dr. Ennis Proctor, executive director. “In the past, many of our high school athletes failed to meet the course requirements to accept four-year scholarship offers,” he said. “The Cellular South Gameplan is an educational process designed to enhance student athletes’ abilities and accomplishments so they are able to meet NCAA requirements.”

Workshop curriculums will include three sections: Do What You Dream, Short and Long-Term Goal Setting and Practical Information. The sessions will range from 45 minutes to three hours long and include small breakout sessions with time for students to fill out applications or NCAA Clearinghouse forms.

Cellular South serves customers throughout Mississippi, in Memphis and western Tennessee, in the Mobile and Gulf Shores, Ala., areas and through the panhandle of Florida.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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