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The Greatest Wins More Fans

October 16, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ OK, so Muhammad Ali doesn’t say much anymore and he can’t mug for the camera and audiences like he used to.

The Greatest, however, still knows how to steal a show _ and that’s just what he did Tuesday with some inner-city and suburban high school students.

While Ali couldn’t preach his message of tolerance and understanding, the students got the message because they were aware of the messenger.

``He is not known only for being the champion in the arena of boxing, but a champion in the arena of non-violence,″ said a student at A. Philip Randolph Campus High School in Harlem.

The former three-time heavyweight champion and his wife Lonnie visited Philip Randolph and suburban Mamaroneck High School.

At Philip Randolph, Ali was met with chants of ``Ali, Ali,″ while at Mamaroneck he was greeted by the school jazz band and a barbershop quartet. At both schools he was given the kind of respect he talks about in his recently released book, ``Healing: A journal of tolerance and understanding,″ written with Tom Hauser.

``Each of you will remember the day you saw Muhammad Ali,″ Hauser told the students. It was not an outlandish statement.

At Philip Randolph, Ali and his wife were presented with school T-shirts by a girl and boy student. Ali embraced the girl, then faked a right uppercut to the boy’s chin.

Ali then walked slowly to the lectern and haltingly said, ``I came all the way here, working this hard, and this is all I get.″

The place went wild.

During a question-and-answer session conducted by Lonnie Ali at Mamaroneck, she sometimes would lean forward to hear Ali’s answer, which she then would repeat over the public address system.

But when a student asked if Ali at the height of his career could have beaten Mike Tyson, Ali’s voice rang out: ``No problem.″

There were cheers.

At both schools prizes were given to the winners of an art contest in which the artwork was to be based on sayings in Ali’s book. The students at both schools were to get copies of the book.

The third-prize winner at Philip Randolph, 15-year-old Randy Lawrence, touchingly leaned over and kissed Ali on a cheek. First-prize winner Towanda Mathurin, 17, and runnerup Nina Bowen, 16, each got hugs from Ali, who pretended to wave Lonnie Ali away as he embraced Mathurin. He also took a few steps and made a mock threatening gesture to Jones when one of the girls hugged Roy Jones Jr., the super middleweight champion who accompanied Ali to the school.

Ali joined in the applause when it was announced at Mamaroneck that Patricia Stringel, the 10th-grade student who won the art contest, was going to become a U.S. citizen on Wednesday.

The visit to the schools was sponsored by HBO Sports as part of its``Reaching Beyond The Ring″ community service program.

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