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Deion Sanders Working to Open Charter School in Texas

NFL Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders plans on taking his success from the gridiron to the classroom by opening a charter school in Fort Worth, Texas, if the state board of education will let him.

Sanders, along with other business partners, laid out a plan in front of the Texas board of education's charter school committee last week, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Given Sanders' unique background as an NFL superstar, he stressed to the committee that his school would emphasize both athletics and academics.

"We can marry the two and have Prime Youth Prep Academy, where we're exemplary in academics and we have a wonderful athletic program," said Sanders. "Why can't we do such a thing?" (Sanders' nickname in the NFL was "Prime Time," hence the school name.)

Texas has 13 open slots for new charters this year, and 15 groups interviewed for them in total. The state board of education will vote on the winning groups on Sept. 16. Given Sanders' stature in Texas as a local living legend of the Dallas Cowboys, it's difficult to imagine his group being denied one of the 13 spots.

If the state board approves Sanders' school, it's tentatively set to open in 2012 with roughly 650 K-6 students. The group would expand the school to 12th grade eventually, and also has property in the Dallas area for a second location, according to the paper.

Sanders isn't the only former superstar athlete getting into the charter business; in fact, Andre Agassi beat him to the punch. Agassi already runs the Las Vegas-based Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, and earlier this year, announced a plan to raise upwards of $750 million for the construction of 75 charter schools across the U.S. over the next four years. Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and current mayor of Sacramento, also founded a charter school, as my former colleague Dakarai Aarons reported last year.

But this proposed charter isn't Sanders' first go-around trying to make an impact on the lives of children. ESPN's Seth Wickersham wrote an article earlier this year about Sanders' role as a mentor to young athletes—a piece that also tried to uncover Sanders' motivation behind helping youths.

On the one hand, Sanders pays for buses six days a week to transport 400 boys, ages 5 to 12, from low-income Dallas neighborhoods to football practices and games, according to Wickersham. He provides their equipment and their uniforms, but only allows them to play if they get all A's and B's on their report cards and stay out of trouble outside of school.

Sanders told Wickersham that he wanted to become a mentor because he never had someone to guide him during his own professional career. "If someone I respected had been there to check me," he said, "I'd be $10 million richer and would have saved a lot of time."

On the other hand, Sanders has been accused of targeting only high-profile prospects for mentorships. He's been accused of steering said prospects to an agent friend of his. And he's got a wave of critics questioning the true motivation (Power? Money? Something more dubious?) behind his apparent acts of altruism. That said, many of the players he's mentored in the NFL swear by him.

There's no telling whether that same dynamic appears if Sanders' group ends up winning the rights to open their charter school, but it's worth watching, either way.

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