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Michael Jordan saves middle-school sports in Charlotte

Cameron Smith
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Michael Jordan may not spend most of his time on the basketball court anymore, but he's still answering prayers as the clock winds down. This time, His Airness is coming to the rescue of middle-school sports in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system, donating $250,000 to keep the county's middle-school sports programs from being chopped out of existence in a single drastic budget cut.

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According to the Associated Press and Charlotte Observer, the city cut $1.25 million -- the entire budget for middle-school sports -- in an effort to get the school district's funding in line with budget projections. The public school district also instituted new rules that call for middle-school students to pay $50 to participate in each school sports and high school athletes to pay $100 to play. The Observer reported that those fees would be waived for students who participate in the free or reduced-cost lunch programs, a group that comprises more than half of the students attending Charlotte public schools. From The Observer:

"We investigated the situation. We looked for ways to help middle schools and this was one of the options presented to us. We took it because of the impact on middle schools and giving them the opportunity to play sports and as motivation for education as well," Jordan said.

Jordan and his Charlotte Bobcats aren't the only donor to step forward and help CMS middle-school sports, but he's by far the largest. By comparison, the Charlotte Touchdown Club, an organization that included funding from the Carolina Panthers and the NFL Players Association in its pledge, donated $56,000.

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The donation is a generous one for Jordan, who took over ownership of the Charlotte Bobcats last spring but has deep roots in North Carolina. He attended public schools in Wilmington before famously starring at the University of North Carolina, where he won a national title as a freshman in 1982.

Now, Jordan's personas as a benevolent public figure and successful owner may be converging at once. The Bobcats reached the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last spring, shortly after Jordan was confirmed as the organization's new owner, when he stressed the importance of building a bond between the team and local community. Jordan told The Observer that this donation would be just a part of a longer outreach plan for the Charlotte area.

"We're in the process of really trying to rejuvenate the community relations department," Jordan said. "This is going to be a big jolt."

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While the donation to the Charlotte schools comes from the Bobcats, for whom $250,000 is a significant charitable gift, Jordan has a sizable personal wealth to help bankroll the team's iniatives. Ranked No. 20 in Forbes' list of top celebrities, the Nike icon earns $55 million per year.

Of course, funding athletic programs for Charlotte is not Jordan's responsibility, which is why his team's donation of $250,000 is a generous offer. It's certainly one that the CMS system is more than appreciative to receive. CMS superintendent Peter Gorman told The Observer:

"Sometimes we forget the impact of what happens on our fields and our courts and how it impacts what happens in the classrooms and beyond. This saves us from turning kids away.

"It could not have come at a better time."

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