Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011 | 11:21 p.m.
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Tennis champion and hometown hero Andre Agassi will see his ultimate dream come true at Saturday night’s 16th Grand Slam charity event with a superstar celebrity lineup. He is firmly convinced that the gala fundraiser will take him over the money mark so that he never has to worry again about his Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy living on forever.
The sports superstar who has raised multimillions told me: “I never thought 15 years ago when we started this, we would make it this far. But I played each year by year with one goal in mind, which was to make sure I can fund the school forever.
“Every year, we’ve taken that a step closer, and now I’m proud to say this Saturday night, it’s not going to be just a fantastic evening because the cast of talent we have, it’s going to be even more of a celebration because I am under the full hopes that we will actually get us over the threshold so we’ll never have to worry about our school living in perpetuity. It’s really exciting -- it’s going to be a very celebratory atmosphere, to say the least.
I had to ask Andre what was the one defining moment, a magic moment, that he decided he had to take on the epic challenge to change education here in Las Vegas with his own charter school.
“This was an evolution in process for me, giving back, and seeing the inequalities that exist in the world, traveling the world. I knew giving back was something that I wanted to do, focusing on children was an easy focus for me,” he said in our one-on-one. “I think the moment that I really took on the Herculean task of building a K-12 charter school in the most economic challenged area of Las Vegas was when I was at my lowest point, quite ironically. I was stuck at No. 140 in the world after being No. 1 in the world and very disconnected with my life, in a life I just didn’t recognize anymore. You read all about that depression and anguish in my book.
“The only thing that made sense to me, of choosing going nowhere or taking ownership of my life, was to use my tennis for something that really resonated with me, and that was impacting children. And the greatest way to do that was through education, so that’s when I said I’m going to build my school, and I’m going to use that vehicle as the one thing that gets me to connect with this very sport that I spent, unfortunately, too long in my life not loving.”
I wanted to know from Andre if his ambitious dream had finally come true when the first graduation ceremony took place for his kids going off to college last year.
“You know, Robin, I think being from a sport where you weren’t measured by being good, you were measured by being better than one other person, I’ve never, ever felt like I’ve arrived at any given moment,” he replied. “I’ve seen all these intersections that make me very proud for what’s being done, makes me very grateful for what’s being accomplished in these children’s lives.
“But if you ask me to really pinpoint true success, I would say success of these children going away to college, becoming successful, coming back to their community, making a difference for the next generation, seeing the circle of life continue, I think ultimately is the greatest payoff. I don’t know if that day ever really happens in one moment, I think it’s just an ongoing process, and it’s certainly a journey that I choose to live.”
So if his debut Las Vegas school is guaranteed forever status Saturday, what does he want to tackle next? I asked: “If you reach this extraordinary goal Saturday night knowing that perpetuity is assured, do you then take on a new challenge? If you can make it work in Vegas, to this degree, could you make it in every other city across the country? If you started the same school system everywhere else, could you clean up the education mess we have in America?
Andre responded: “I think you are 100 percent right, I think we have a long ways to go, I think there is a lot more to do. I’ve started doing it nationally now. I figured out a model that helps us reach out to traditional capital and solve the one impediment that is the single curse in these great operators expanding their footprint, and that is the facilities component of education that they’re providing. So, in other words, a best-in-class charter school operator operates in the black, meaning they can run economically sound and sustainable, and they also educate at a much higher level and gets great educational results.
The one impediment they have, though, is the facilities, so I’ve figured out a way to facilitate that for them. So, as a result, we have over $500 million to deploy nationally. We have built our first school in North Philadelphia that opened this August. Our next one is in Milwaukee. We’ll build 75 over the next two to three years, and it’s my belief, in the next five to 10 years, we’ll have billions invested, B as in billions, invested in the infrastructure for those that know how to educate our future. It’s one of the things that I’m taking on, and God only knows what other direction I’m going to go, but I’m not stopping.
“For now that includes tennis, but unfortunately tennis is one of those things that dictates it for me. I don’t have a say over my body, and I only get a few years to feel the way I’ve been feeling, and I felt great playing here in Vegas with our tennis champions last week. We had a great time, so as long as I can do it healthy and create a little nostalgia, I’ll never lose sight of the connection to the one thing that made all these dreams possible.”
Andre teased with a preview of Saturday’s Grand Slam dinner and concert at the Wynn: “You can expect a great lineup of talent -- Michael Buble, Jimmy Kimmel, Martina McBride, Smokey Robinson and Train. You can also expect a great celebratory atmosphere because we are absolutely in a position, we have come light-years in the last three years, and the territory we’ve covered as it relates to what our needs are and how we are going to achieve, how we are going to accomplish those goals, and Saturday night getting over that finish line is not just people that have launched this mission, but people that have helped me see it through.
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop worrying about lining up these stars, though. That’s my greatest thorn in the side. There’s so many incredible people wanting to give their talents, but the schedule and the timing of people’s lives don’t always work out so neatly, and one year to the next, it’s hard to say how easy or difficult it’s going to be. … This year, we are proud of the lineup we have. Half came later than I wanted, and the other half came in time for me to really take a deep breath.”
Saturday’s fundraising event for the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education continues to transform education and benefit his tuition-free K-12 public charter school. Longines, the famous maker of elegant timepieces, is the new presenting sponsor with Steve Wynn’s casino hotels.
“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together to change lives and make the world a better place for children,” Andre summed up. “This year’s event is so special. It will create an everlasting memory and enable us to give the tools of hope to the next generation.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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