Pat Tankersley, Big Red and the students and the Cardinals Preparatory Academy cut the ribbon to dedicate the new facilities Tuesday.
A former teacher, Pat Tankersley heard about the idea of sports teams helping start schools at an NFL meeting she attended.
The notion intrigued Tankersley, the executive director of Cardinals Charities, and the Arizona Cardinals Preparatory Academy was eventually born in 2007.
But the journey truly didn't reach its end until Tuesday, when the Academy's newly built facilities were officially opened.
"I can hardly look at it without crying," Tankersley said. "I see that sign and my heart swells. This has been a years-long dream for me. I can't tell you how proud I am."
With Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, Alice Whisenhunt – wife of coach Ken Whisenhunt -- and players Jerheme Urban and Deuce Lutui in attendance, a ribbon-cutting was the centerpiece of a dedication ceremony.
The school, in the Sunnyslope area of Phoenix, is in its third year. The Cardinals and Cardinals Charities have played a large role in the school, which is in the Washington Elementary School District. The University of Phoenix is also a partner, outfitting the new computer lab.
Among the speakers was a current student, eighth-grader Isaiah Acuna, who credited the small-school environment of the academy as improving his outlook on school.
"It changed my attitude, it changed my grades and it changed my attitude overall," Acuna said. "Since being at the Academy, I look forward to going to school every day."
The first class in 2007 was of fifth- and sixth-graders numbering about 40 students. Grades seven and eight have been added over the past two years, with Whisenhunt, Urban and Urban's wife Emily among the volunteers who help tutor the kids.
Whisenhunt and Emily Urban are frequent visitors.
"I have enjoyed all the time I've spent with the kids, and like Alice said, they enrich our lives," Emily Urban said. "I've learned a lot from them."
Jerheme Urban said any little way to help – with reading, multiplication tables or even organizing library books – is important. "These teachers do a great job and if we can come over and lighten the burden just a little bit, it's awesome."
And it drives further the dream Tankersley had a decade ago.
"It's become the passion of my heart," Tankersley said.
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