Much to the convenience of working parents in the neighborhood, the center is now staying open until 7 p.m., and if all goes well, ElmCor sports director Michael Cigala says it may stay open even later.
Cigala has been with the facility for several years and utilizes the sports facility to not only get the kids involved in athletics, but to also facilitate a comfortable learning environment.
“Until you learn the importance of education, sports teaches you how to be successful,” Cigala said. “It keeps you on the straight and narrow, it keeps you disciplined and it keeps you motivated, and coaches are the best kept friends you can have.”
In the program, children from ages five to 12 take part in reading comprehension courses, spend time in the computer lab and get much-needed homework assistance with ElmCor faculty and high school volunteers.
There are currently openings for an additional 20 students.
“When the parents come, the first thing that happens is they know the kid ate and that their homework is done,” he said.
As a wrestler for Team USA in the 1984 Friendship Games in Russia, Cigala is a world-class athlete with an extensive background in education and has become a role model for the children at ElmCor.
He also had a 20-year stint at the Bushwick Beacon Lighthouse and at I.S. 291 Roland Hayes, where he was the Dean of Discipline and a health education teacher.
“I took all this sport background and on the rudimentary level, I reeducate kids on how to win through sports,” Cigala said. “It works, this thought that teaching fundamentals about life for kids who can’t find anyplace else to be, they find it in sports.”
The sports academy offers instruction in wrestling, flag football, basketball and volleyball.
Coach Will Mayers has been with ElmCor for the last 10 years and works with the kids as a teacher and a role model.
“At the end of the day it’s all about getting better, and you don’t get better if you don’t put the work in,” he said. “If you don’t come here to work hard, and even if you had a long day at school, if this is what you have a passion for then you have to work for it.”
Cheryl France, the after-school coordinator, took her first summer job at ElmCor when she was 14, and now she is back to work with the kids in her community.
“We do a lot with children,” France said. “We have a lot of sports going on here, but the after-school program is what this place is about.
In addition to sports and education, France said the biggest lesson to take away from the program is the lessons in morality and life.
“We have the rules posted right out there,” she said, pointing over to the lobby. “There’s no drinking, there’s no smoking and there’s no cursing.”