Wornel Simpson

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Name: Wornel Simpson
Age: 53
Hometown: Sacramento
Profession: financial advisor, founder and executive director of Team Sage

"My name is Wornel Simpson, and I coach teens to achieve on the court, in class, and in life."

For the basketball program Wornel Simpson started in Sacramento, points scored and games won aren’t the only signs of success.

Instead, one of the statistics he’s most proud of is the rise in the grade point average of his players, aged 12-16.

“They finished the year with an average 3.8 GPA, “ said the 53-year-old Sacramento resident.

Started in 2009 with just 10 kids, the basketball program known as Team Sage combines athletic expectations with basketball, setting the bar high on and off the court. Players and their parents must sign an agreement to maintain a 3.3 grade point average. Fall under that, and players head to mandatory tutoring in classrooms near the gym. If they haven’t finished their homework, they cannot get on the court for practice.

“We demand academic excellence,” Simpson said. “Our goal is to have every kid be UC eligible by the end of high school.”

The program has also included visits to nearby UC Davis, as well as workshops on nutrition and HIV awareness, barbecues, and other fun activities. So successful was his first team that Simpson was asked to replicate the effort. With the help of a city grant, Simpson has launched five more teams in multi-family housing areas of Sacramento and grown the tutoring program to serve 300 kids.

The support Team Sage received from the city exemplifies the kind of role Simpson feels government should play to ensure a community’s success.

“I need them to continue to see the value in supporting activities like Team Sage financially,” he said.

He added, “We also need our government to ensure that schools are open and available. A lot of athletic programs have been curtailed because of budgets, but there are a lot of volunteers our there. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of opening up the doors and letting volunteers man the posts.”

Team Sage is also an expression of his hopes for a state he acknowledges has been beset by challenges.

“I would really like to see all Californians able to pursue their goals and dreams,” he said. “That means economically they need to be okay. They need good healthcare, good nutrition – basically the same things we’re teaching these kids.”

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