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Second Annual Celebrity Basketball Game Pits Duval Students Against Top Local Officials

Rhema Thompson

It’s the game everyone’s been waiting for. Maybe not everyone, but certainly a few local officials looking to settle a score.The second annual Celebrity Basketball Game at Paxon School for Advanced Studies will tip-off this weekend. The event is put on by local leadership training nonprofit the I’m A Star Foundation.

The game, which takes place Saturday, pits Duval County high school student athletes against a few of Jacksonville’s most agile officials in the name of helping the district’s homeless student population.

Last year’s turnout was a success with about a thousand attendees and tens of thousands of dollars raised towards assisting homeless students and their families. However, the team of local officials including Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland and Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti didn't fare so well. They lost 102-90, according to organizers of the event.

"Well, let me put it this way, we might have let them win at the end, but we had control of the game the whole way," Holland said.

This year they’re back, and they’ve brought in reinforcements — heavy-hitters Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, Sheriff John Rutherford and Northeast Regional Director of the Department of Children and Families David Abramowitz, to name a few.

“We’re going to take these kids, this year,” Abramowitz said, lacing up his sneakers in Paxon's gymnasium Tuesday. “This year’s our year.”

The men spent the afternoon, boning up on their ball — and trash-talking — skills.

“We’re going to beat them. We’re going to whoop them this year,” Abramowitz said.

Competition aside, the primary objective of the game is to raise money and awareness for the nearly 2,000 homeless students currently living in the district.

Betty Burney is founder and director of the I'm A Star Foundation dedicated to empowering student leaders.

“We say that we’re raising money and awareness because there are a number of students who are homeless,” she said. “Most people when they think of homelessness. They think of adults and they forget about the young people who through no fault of their own, find themselves without a home.

Last year, the group raised $20,000 to assist students and their families in district’s homeless education program, Ability Housing and the Sulzbacher Center. Another $15,500 went toward scholarships for four homeless students. This year, the organization aims to raise $50,000.

Paxon freshman Joshua Brown has helped organize the event for the past two years.

“Last year was just to see how it goes,” he said. “This year, we know if we could do $20,000, we can do more than that. Above and beyond."

Brown said the group is expecting about 1,500 attendees this year.

Proceeds from the event will be presented to the school board in August.

But this time, Brown said he thinks the tide might just turn in the adult’s favor.

“I don’t know,” he said. “They’re just practicing. Last year they didn’t practice at all...They have more dedication this year.”

The drama unfolds this Saturday, June 28, at 6 p.m. Tickets will be available at the door and online at

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.