By Bill Burt
---- — LAWRENCE — At precisely 9 a.m., the doors were finally unlocked and about 20 boys and girls stormed into the gymnasium at the Bruce School, looking around in amazement, as if they had entered Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Instead of chocolate, the lucky Lawrence kids were introduced to the sweet smell of a new basketball court and all of the other fixings of a Grade A gymnasium.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Bruce School eighth-grader, Eric Ubilez, one of the best basketball players in the school. “The floor used to be slippery, like you were skating. Now it’s real. It’s shiny. And you can run and stop, and play real basketball.”
This renovation — which included a new floor, two regulation glass backboards, rims, wall padding, paint and custom Celtics wall graphics, along with a new motor for a motorized hoop — was a gift of the Boston Celtics through its Shamrock Foundation.
It was a long time coming, according to Bruce School Principal Cheryl Merz, who is in her first year there. The old dark brown gym floor had not been replaced since the school was built in 1954.
“Everyone is excited, especially the students,” said Merz, with the Lawrence schools for a decade. “It’s a beautiful gym. It’s something they can be proud of. Having this gym will be a reason a lot of kids are excited to come to school.”
Lawrence Superintendent/Receiver Jeffrey Riley, who has had a relationship with the Celtics and their foundation from his time in the Boston Public Schools, started the application process and got help from School Committeeman Francisco Surillo, who represents the district.
This apparently was an important investment by the Celtics and their foundation. Owner Wyc Grousbeck led a brigade of Celtics employees which included players Courtney Lee, Chris Wilcox, recently retired Keyon Dooling and Celtics mascot “Lucky.”
“I’ve got chills watching this,” said Grousbeck, as the kids were going through dribbling drills in front of him only minutes after the doors opened.
“Lawrence is a place we want to help,” said Grousbeck. “I love this gym. Half of the floor is used as a cafeteria. These kids deserve a nice gym. We just want them to know we care about them.”
After the clinic, which was directed by Lee, Wilcox and Dooling, the rest of the student body - all 600 students - came to the gym to take part in the official ceremony.
Grousbeck, Lee, Wilcox, Dooling and “Lucky” all spoke to the enthusiastic audience, which was entertained with a DJ.
Lee told a story of when he was in grade school and took part in a reading course that put him ahead of his grade.
Grousbeck said while the Celtics only offer 15 jobs on the court, there are more than 100 off it. “If you graduate from high school or college, send us your resume,” said Grousbeck, with a few hundred kids wildly approving.
The fact that there are so many students at the Bruce School, which is for kids in second through eighth grade, made it a no-brainer for the foundation.
“This is an important age group,” said Katie Green, director of the Shamrock Foundation. “The first year the focus was on computer labs. This year it is gymnasiums. It’s really cool, because the Celtics players, which help raise money the foundation, chose gymnasiums. When you look at all of these kids, you realize what a great thing this is.”
How great? Principal Merz took it a step further.
“This school has been around a long time,” said Merz. “I believe this is one of the best things to ever happen to the Bruce School.”
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.