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Names in the Game

February 24, 1992

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Keith Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles is trying to turn his dream into reality for street-tough youths in his hometown.

The star tight end has devoted his off-season to raising money for P.A.R.K. - Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids - a 15-acre facility where at-risk youths could exercise mind and body in a positive environment.

″This park has been a vision of mine for a long time,″ Jackson said. ″One day, I always wanted to try to build a safe place for kids. I wanted to give them a place where they could not only learn physically, but mentally as well.″

Preliminary cost of the project is $5.2 million and Jackson plans to have it built by the summer of 1993. He hopes to have raised $1.5 million by late March or early April toward the $5.2 million start-up cost and $600,000 annual operating budget. He’ll go to the government for some help with the rest.

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COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - To seventh-grader Lavarro Saddler, Earvin Johnson’s words were like Magic.

As part of a recent class assignment at Hunt Junior High, Lavarro wrote a letter to retired Los Angeles Lakers star expressing his admiration for Johnson and his sympathy for Johnson’s being diagnosed as HIV positive.

Johnson wrote back, and Lavarro has a new outlook on life.

″Although I am a professional basketball player, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t paid attention in school,″ Johnson’s letter said.

Johnson’s encouraging words renewed the boy’s interest in school and in achieving.

″That letter really got to him,″ teacher Luberta Taylor said. ″It told him to study and work hard. Since then he has turned in his assignments on time and is serious about tests. He has become more of a serious student and has a much more positive attitude.″

Lavarro said the letter and the autographed picture from Johnson have given him a goal.

″He wrote a lot of stuff about staying in school and not being a dropout,″ the youth said. ″I wrote him because he is a good basketball player and I feel bad about him having the HIV virus. I wanted him to know he is still a great basketball player.″

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YALE, Okla. (AP) - The daughter of decathlete Jim Thorpe hasn’t given up hope that her father’s trophies will be returned even though nearly 80 years have passed since the fruits of his Olympic accomplishments were taken from him.

″We’re now trying to get the trophies,″ says Grace Thorpe, his daughter and a part-time district judge for the Sac and Fox Nation. ″And one of them, I believe is priceless.″

That gift, Ms. Thorpe said, was given to her father by Nicholas II.

″It was given to Dad by the czar of Russia,″ she said. ″It’s a 2-foot Viking, of silver and encrusted by jewels.″ She said the other is a life-size bust of the then-king of Sweden, Gustav V.

Thorpe, a native Oklahoman and Sac and Fox tribe member, won both the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden.

But he was disqualified the following year, after officials discovered he once played semi-professional baseball. Nearly 20 years ago, Thorpe’s amateur standing was restored for the period prior to the 1912 games and, in 1983, his two gold medals were given to the family, and his Olympic records were reinstated.

The trophies were believed to have been sent to the Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, Ms. Thorpe believes they are still there.

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