Bleachers on both sides of the gym at Ridge Park Charter Academy were packed with enthusiastic scholars, shouting words of encouragement for their favorite team, which turned out to be the teachers.
The team of students dubbed themselves The Amigos and made it to this point by winning the school’s kickball tournament earlier in the month. They were led by captain Abdiasis Sharif and included Marcus Houston, Santiago Sosa-Parada, Bruce Chabez-Lopez, and Momolu Kiazolu.
Principal Hector Ulloa high fives his staff teammates during the game.
Team Ranger Danger, led by captain and Sixth Grade Teacher James Wagner also featured Social Studies Teacher Barbara Reeb, Sixth Grade Teacher Shequillia Hall, Language Arts Teacher Bethany Dallas, Math Teacher Jenny Collins, Achievement/Behavior Specialist Jai La Hall, and Principal Hector Ulloa. Middle School Dean Michele Van Duyn was the official scorekeeper.
It was an uphill battle for The Amigos as they started in a 59-43 deficit, made possible by some pre-game fundraising. Each $10 donation tallied another “run” for the team who collected it, and some big spenders arrived to boost the score in favor of the staff before game time.
The event paired well with the AHA’s Kids Heart Challenge, a drive with dual purpose: to get kids actively exercising and raise money for heart disease research and support.
The Amigos were efficient and effective in the field but struggled to put points on the board. Ranger Danger, buoyed by overwhelming enthusiasm from the crowd, scored often and were never in serious jeopardy of losing, taking the win 91-60. The Amigos showed brief disappointment in their loss but were smiling soon enough as both teams gathered to pose for pictures under the scoreboard.
A member of The Amigos team kicks the ball.
“It’s great to see them get so excited about it and even understanding that even when they lose, all the money went to charity, it’s for all the right reasons,” Ulloa said. “It can get crazy and hyped, but they really do show their values throughout. It’s something we’re playing for fun and different from a normal Friday; it’s literally a manifestation of the best stuff we do.”
Ridge Park does many things well, especially education. The school has outperformed the local district for the past 13 years.
The tournament was the brainchild of Ridge Park Physical Education Teacher Steve Mercado, who wanted to do something special to get students excited about the fundraiser. Mercado also served as pitcher for the tournament, rolling smooth, consistent balls to the kickers.
“There was a lot of support from the teachers, students, and our families as well, coming together and donating the money. It’s fantastic, it’s a great feeling,” Mercado said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to continue this tradition for a long time.”
Physical Education Teacher Steve Mercado gestures to the outfield that no one is out during the first inning of the game.
It’s likely that will happen, as the middle schoolers raised over $1,900, the most ever raised by the group.
“That’s the reason why we did it,” Mercado said. “To help kids who are sick and need the help financially, and to do it through kickball? It’s very special to see kids who may not have the funds themselves donate money to help someone else.”
The Amigos had another perk waiting for them after the game. Cherry pies with plenty of whipped cream topping were brought out, courtesy of Science Teacher Keith Batchelor, and the boys were able to deliver them to the faces of their favorite teachers and principal.
Standing in the center of the gym after the event, Principal Ulloa wiped sugary cream from his eyes and paused to reflect on the events of the past hour. His smile merged with the cherry juice on his cheeks.
The Amigos and Ranger Danger teams pose for photos after the game.
“It’s the kids, it’s Mr. Mercado, taking advantage of what we try to do here,” he said. “They can come and cheer and be supportive, and yes, the money is important, but this is priceless, this is the stuff that makes you want to cry. We have tough days and there are a lot of things we have to work on, but this is awesome.”
Ulloa glanced over his shoulder to see Mercado, who was guiding The Amigos team members as they cleaned pie remnants from the gym floor.
“And they have a teacher who is able to motivate them and drive them in the right direction,” he said. “They get excited about it and it’s great to see.”
About Ridge Park Charter Academy
Ridge Park Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 99 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.