- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

Five Washington Wizards players took a break from shooting hoops yesterday to dish out healthy lunches to more than 100 awestruck students from D.C. schools.

In what they said was a welcome break from the basketball court, the players highlighted the restart of a program started by Wizards owner Abe Pollin that will provide meals to students in an after-school program for at-risk youths at Calvary Baptist Church in Chinatown.

“It kind of takes your mind off of what’s been going on on the basketball court,” Wizards player Michael Ruffin said as he served drinks alongside his 5-year-old daughter, Milaya. “We’ve been going through a tough time, but you get the chance to come and help other people out, and it makes you feel better.”

As students filed through the line, players Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood, Andray Blatche, Mike Hall and Ruffin heaped their plates with fried chicken, broccoli and mashed potatoes. The players had donned chef’s hats, adding a foot to their already towering frames.

Many students were shy about talking to the players, but not 17-year-old Kendrick Holley.

“Are you going to meet us on the court afterwards?” he said he asked the players. “They said they might stay and play. If they act like they really want to play, I’m going to try,” he said, though he acknowledged it probably would be a tough game.

Mr. Pollin began the program, called Abe’s Table, in 1999 in partnership with Calvary Baptist Church to provide meals to the homeless. Abe’s Table was halted during renovation at the church, and restarted yesterday with the goal of feeding 100 students every day in Calvary’s Horizons Club.

Calvary gave Mr. Pollin and his wife, Irene, a “Bread of Life Award” yesterday for their support in feeding underserved people in the community.

At Horizons Club, students do homework, play sports and eat a hot meal before going home.

The president of Washington Sports and Entertainment, Susan O’Malley, said she was excited to renew Abe’s Table at the church, which is a block from the Verizon Center where the Wizards play their home games.

“I think they like giving back to the community,” she said of the players. “It’s in our community, and the Pollins like to do as much as they can for kids.”

Before the students loaded up their plates, she asked them to give the players “good playoff wishes” as they went through the line.

While the Wizards certainly will be in the playoffs when they start in two weeks, they will need a lot of good wishes after the news yesterday that leading scorer Gilbert Arenas is out with a knee injury.

Yesterday was the only day the players were scheduled to help out at Abe’s Table, but students were thrilled to see them. Before the players arrived, Wizards mascot G-Wiz warmed up the crowd with theatrics and drew a loud response from students such as Stephon McClaine, 12, who carried a No. 3 Wizards jersey.

His friend Rocky Hayes, 12, said he became a Wizards fan when Michael Jordan joined the team in 2001. He was excited to see the current players even though Jordan is no longer part of the team.

He said he admired the players for one thing in particular: “I like the way they dunk,” he said.

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