City's NBA franchise debuts 'St. Cecilia-inspired' jerseys that pay homage to Detroit’s storied basketball haven
DETROIT — A quick glance at the NBA standings shows the Detroit Pistons are still rebuilding.
But while the Pistons are still trying to improve on the court at Little Caesars Arena downtown, the franchise is partnering with JDS Sports and the Knight Foundation to revamp the historic St. Cecilia Gym on the city's northwest side, located next to what is now St. Charles Lwanga Parish.
St. Cecilia Gym now operates as Ceciliaville, a non-denominational nonprofit started with the help of the Archdiocese of Detroit and St. Charles Lwanga that is turning the former St. Cecilia High School gym into a community center that features mentoring, tutoring services, job training, financial literacy programs and other resources.
"What we are doing is raising funds to make the gym safe and secure for kids to play," said Lory McGlinnen, volunteer executive director of Ceciliaville. "The plumbing, electric and heating are from the 1950s and need to be updated."
Over the years, the gym has served as the ultimate proving ground for Detroit’s basketball stars, a place to showcase their talents and play against the best. NBA stars including Jalen Rose, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Chris Webber have earned their stripes at "The Saint."
Ceciliaville's plans include not only rehabbing the gym, but making it a “transformational center for young men and women to connect over basketball and other sports, but also to access activities and services that will change their lives,” according to the organization’s campaign site.
“We need to prepare our youth for productive and happy lives — to literally and figuratively give them a jump start,” said Isaiah “Ike” McKinnon, Ph.D., Ceciliaville's board chairman. “We are grateful to the Detroit Pistons for their partnership and to the Knight Foundation and JDS Sports for their grants to help renovate St. Cecilia’s gym and allow a new generation of Detroit kids to excel on the court and in life.”
The two-story gymnasium features a basketball court on the second floor and a gathering space in the lower level.
St. Charles Lwanga Parish hosts luncheons, fish frys and Christmas gatherings in the lower level, and the parish's Better Men Outreach plays basketball every Friday as a means to build fellowship in the community.
"When Ceciliaville started, there was a focus on mentoring, and that will continue to be a focus as we restore the gym," said McGlinnen, who also serves as director of parish care and sustainability for the Archdiocese of Detroit. "The parish is still involved with Ceciliaville, even though the building is operated by the nonprofit, but it still has an interest as the gym is part of the parish's community outreach."
McGlinnen said Ceciliaville has raised more than $400,000 from donors to provide programs and resources for free or at low cost for the community, with the key focus being on restoring the gym to its former glory.
JDS Sports — the ownership group behind Five-Star Basketball and SLAM — has pledged a $250,000 grant, joining the Detroit Pistons Foundation and the Knight Foundation in Detroit to kickstart the initial construction and renovation of St. Cecilia gym.
Meanwhile, the Pistons debuted new green, St. Cecilia-inspired jerseys this month as an homage to the historic gym.
“Basketball is about community, and 'The Saint' (the famed gymnasium’s nickname) has fostered community for countless kids from Detroit through the decades,” said Joseph Samberg, chairman of JDS Sports. “Likewise, our mission at JDS Sports is to invest in companies and projects that empower individuals, build community, and promote positive change. And with family from Detroit and deep ties to the area, this project aligns with our heart and our soul, so we’re thrilled to be a part of this proud restoration.”
News of the donation came with the unveiling of the Pistons’ Nike NBA City Edition uniforms, featuring St. Cecilia’s green colors and shorts adorned with a replica of 'The Saint’s' storied stained-glass window.
The jersey also incudes a famed quote from former St. Cecilia athletic director Sam Washington, who described the gym as “Where stars are made, not born.”
“St. Cecilia’s for decades served as a beacon of hope for Detroiters and a safe haven for basketball players to play,” said Alicia Jeffreys, chief marketing officer for the Detroit Pistons. “Our City Edition uniform offers the opportunity to tell the story of the gym known as ‘The Saint’ while also joining our great partners at JDS Sports and the Knight Foundation in kickstarting the revitalization of the iconic Ceciliaville facility for generations to come.”
A portion of the proceeds from sales of the jerseys will be donated back to Ceciliaville, the Pistons announced.
Visit Ceciliaville.org to learn more about the Ceciliaville project and to donate.