Call Him Coach Pervis

By Keith Pompey
Updated: September 14, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Feb. 8, 2005, is a day fresh in my memory. It’s the first day I saw Pervis Ellison in person. The former NBA player was one of many people trying to get in a 6 a.m. workout at the L.A. Fitness in Cherry Hill.

Thoughts like here comes another self-centered ex-athlete came to mind. You know the kind who want to be the center of attention. I was wrong.

To his credit, Ellison never mentioned being the first overall pick in the 1989 NBA draft or the lucrative contract that came with that. At that time, I came to the realization that this 6-foot-10 guy was just an ordinary dude.

Wrong again.

Ellison, who resides in Voorhees, Camden County, is actually an extraordinary dude. He is donating time and money to New Beginnings Academy in Chester. New Beginnings, which has students in first through 12th grade, is a new school.

Ellison will coach the middle-school basketball team. He’s also providing five full scholarships worth $4,800 apiece so disadvantage youth can attend this school. And the 41-year-old runs an after-school workout session for all of the academy’s basketball players.

Ellison, who sought the position, is not getting paid for coaching.

The Rev. Jim Pepper is the pastor of New Beginnings Church in Toughkenamon, which runs the school. He and Ellison have mutual friends, which led Ellison to joining the coaching staff.

“I saw that Jim was really concerned about the community,” Ellison said. “And I said, ‘Jim, I would be willing to help, but I would like to see one thing happen. I don’t know how you guys are going scholarship-wise. But I want to scholarship five people from Chester.

“I said, ‘If you can find some hardship kids from Chester that I can scholarship, then I will help you develop your program.’ ”

This isn’t the first time Ellison has helped someone.

He’s also a youth football coach for the Lawnside Jaguars of Camden County. And Ellison has helped out the Paul VI girls’ basketball team.

But this is different.

New Beginnings opened its doors Sept. 4. And, as of Monday afternoon, teachers were still getting books for the estimated 60 students.

The principal of the school is Jill Wingert. The school administrator is Vicki Conteh. They, along with most New Beginnings teachers, held the same jobs at American Christian Academy in Aston, which closed after the last school year.

Most of New Beginnings’ students attended American Christian, and Pepper resigned as American Christian’s athletic director at the end of the school year to run the daily operation of his church.

Ellison wants to help Pepper help students. The first overall pick, by the Sacramento Kings, in 1989, he just wants to be a role model.

Ellison, who grew up in Savannah, Ga., comes from a household in which his parents didn’t graduate high school. He has since lived among the privileged during his NBA stops in Washington, Boston and Seattle. And now he’s doing the same in South Jersey.

His goal in life is to make sure underprivileged students are able to follow in his footsteps.

“We have to help these kids,” Ellison said.

“That’s the bottom line. I don’t care what people think. All I know is there are five kids in this school that never would have been able to pay to come to this school that are from Chester.”

For that, he’ll always be a hero at New Beginnings.

“I just have the greatest respect for him,” Pepper said. “I have such deep appreciation to the fact that he wants to help us out. I’ll be honest with you, it blows my mind.”