SPRING HILL — Jelani Dewberry, a Powell Middle School seventh-grader, dribbled quickly down court, then dropped the basketball through the rim to the cheers of her seventh-grade peers. She was the winner in a "musical chairs" basketball activity that had whittled down a group of 36 girls to her and Bryanna Lunsford, a sixth-grader who settled for second place.
Jelani and Bryanna were among the 86 Powell Middle Schoolers — including 50 boys — who raised enough money for the American Heart Association's Hoops for Heart event to participate Tuesday in sessions of basketball fun. A $10 contribution earned the right to one session; $20 guaranteed fun in two sessions.
Coach Charlene Francisco is no newcomer to raising funds for good causes. She said this is her 20th year of participation, helping to raise about $200,000 overall for the Heart Association. It was Powell Middle School's 15th year helping with the drive.
"I'm very proud to be a volunteer to help raise funds for this association," Francisco said.
"Coach Francisco has great compassion for helping students make community connections with these activities," said Powell principal Tom Dye.
Her dedication has been recognized beyond Hernando County, where she's taught for nearly 25 years. In 2008, she was the Hoops Coordinator of the Year for Florida and the National Hoops Coordinator.
Francisco's goal is to make sure middle-school students understand the reason for the fundraising.
"Some of you may already know people in your families that are experiencing heart disease," Francisco told students.
What used to be Hoops for Heart and Jump Rope for Heart, are now the Heart Association's Kids Heart Challenge, which promotes healthy eating, as well as heart-healthy activities.
Francisco schedules Powell's Hoops for Heart each year during the NCAA's national college basketball playoffs. She encourages students to gather donations and teachers to join the competition with a guaranteed pizza party for classes collecting $125.
The overall goal for this year's event was $4,000. Students are still working to raise that amount.
This year's top fundraiser was sixth-grader Olivia Undestad, who brought in $275. Second place went to sixth-grader Kyle Petty, who raised $125.
"This activity encourages people to help other people in the community," Olivia said.
This year, the class that raises the most money will receive a special award named for the late Carol Austin.
"She was the secretary for the vice-principal here at Powell and was a kind, caring individual," Francisco said.
There is still time to contribute to Powell's efforts. Individuals can contribute online at heart.org/Kidshearthchallenge or by contacting Francisco at (352)797-7095, Ext. 228 or Francisco_c@hcsb.k12.fl.us. Businesses are invited to participate with matching funds.
Gail Diederich is a retired Pasco County teacher of 32 years. She writes feature stories with an education focus for Pasco and Hernando counties. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.