By Bill Burt
LAWRENCE — An offer was made to the Wetherbee School 10 days ago. Whichever classroom collects the most soda, juice and plastic water bottles, as part of the Boston Celtics environmental initiative on recycling, gets a personal visit from forward Jeff Green.
Seventh grade teacher Patricia Gonzalez felt like she hit the trifecta when the challenge was made.
“First off, I am very competitive. Secondly, I love basketball,” said Gonzalez, who played the sport at Lawrence High a decade ago. “And I’m the recycling coordinator at the school. This was a no-brainer for me.”
Ten days after the challenge, the Wetherbee School collected an astonishing 82,600 bottles. Gonzalez’s class collected 14,831 bottles, easily the champion.
So Green, who scored 20 points for the Celtics just 12 hours earlier, gave Ms. Gonzalez’s class an up close and personal question and answer session as well as 25 tickets to an upcoming Celtics game and an autographed recycle bag for groceries.
“My father has cried only once in my life,” Green told the class. “It was when I walked the stage (at Georgetown University last May) and got my diploma ... Trust me, education was important in my house. And it should be in yours, too.”
Yesterday’s event, which was co-sponsored by the Celtics and J.N. Phillips Auto Glass, is part of an initiative to promote environmental responsibility for students.
After visiting the class, Green, former Celtic Walter McCarty, J.N. Phillips Auto Glass president Bob Rosenfield and team mascot “Lucky,” went to an assembly at the Wetherbee gymnasium, where 700 boys and girls from the elementary and junior high were waiting.
Rosenfield showed the students a miniature windshield and a baggie full of “white pellets.”
“See these white pellets? Well look up at cinder blocks,” said Rosenfield, pointing around the gym. “We now recycle our auto glass into these pellets. And they use these pellets to make the cinder blocks stronger. We’re trying to do our part.”
McCarty was a big hit with the packed gym, signing a verse of a religious song.
“I wasn’t just about basketball,” said McCarty, who won an NCAA championship while playing at the University of Kentucky before spending parts of eight seasons with the Celtics after being drafted by the Knicks. “I always had an interest in music. I sang in my church choir. I also liked school.”
Green said he realized the importance of education while he was out for an entire season last with a major heart disorder that was repaired after a difficult surgery last January.
“I was scared,” said Green. “You realize that basketball isn’t everything. It got me thinking about other things in my life, like coaching. I love working with kids. That’s why it was important that I finished my education last year. It wasn’t easy, but it meant a lot to me and my family.”
The loudest cheers of the day were, of course, during “Lucky’s” routine in which he jumped on a mini-trampoline and performed various dunks, the last of which he jumped over Wetherbee principal Colleen Lennon while taking the ball from her hand before slamming it amid the loudest cheers of the day.
“This was a great thing for our school and our kids,” said Ms. Gonzalez. “The kids not only learned something about helping our environment but a lot of their parents got involved, too. It was really special. And to have Jeff Green come to our school, and our class ... We’ll never forget it.”
Wetherbee School won challenge The Celtics and J.N. Phillips Auto offered a challenge on Feb. 25 to the Wetherbee School in Lawrence, to see if they could collect more recyclable bottles than the 40,000 that the Guilmette School collected. Well, they not only beat it, but they doubled it, collecting 82,600 bottles, including 14,831 collected by the seventh grade class of Patricia Gonzalez. Because it collected the most, Ms. Gonzalez's class got a personal visit by Celtics forward Jeff Green and each student received a ticket to a future Celtics game.