One of the most heartening, most promising things to rise up out of the ruins of the tornado that so devastated Trotwood two months ago could be the enormous new sports and education complex being launched by two of the city’s favorite sons and most accomplished professional athletes — Chris Wright and Chris Pearson.
Once basketball teammates at Trotwood Madison High School, they have gone on to shine in their respective athletic careers.
A high-flying star at University of Dayton, the 6-foot-8 Wright is about to enter the ninth year of a pro basketball career that has included NBA stints with the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks and seasons in Israel, Poland and, most recently, with the Oklahoma City Blue of the NBA G League.
He’s also made a mark off the court, as co-owner of Orion Sports Medicine and with his Wright Way Foundation, which, most recently, helped in the tornado relief effort in Trotwood.
Pearson, who at 28 is two years younger than Wright, was 93-8 as an amateur boxer and won the U.S National Amateur Middleweight championship, a National Police Athletic League title and had a strong showing in the international World Series of Boxing.
As a pro – fighting mostly in Las Vegas and California – he is 17-2 and in early May won the WBC Latino Middleweight title. He’s trained by Manny Robles, who also trains the Rocky-like Mexican heavyweight champion, Andy Ruiz.
Recently signed to a five-bout deal by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, Pearson’s scheduled to fight again in mid-September, likely on the undercard of unified middleweight champ Canelo Alvarez, who is about to sign a fight with mandatory challenger, Sergey Derevyanchenko.
Before all that though, Pearson and Wright plan to open their Trotwood sports venture.
It will include a 77,000 square foot multi-sport complex, making it the largest indoor facility in the Dayton area. It will also have an adjacent 40,000 square foot boxing and MMA gym.
The pair are taking over an existing, but under-used sports complex and plan to release the particulars of their venture in a couple of weeks.
The complex will house Wright’s Foundation and his Flyght Academy, which already sponsors teams, hosts youth camps and is involved in other activities, as well as the Prime Performance gym, the Trotwood boxing club once run by Pearson’s dad, Milt. It’s where Chris and several other area pros honed their early fistic skills.
Wright said the center will tailor specialized training for individual athletes in a variety of sports and provide nutritional advice.
He said there also will be an emphasis on after-school programs, everything from tutoring to SAT and ACT test preparations.
Their facility, he said, will not only cater to K-12 students, but college athletes, “guys who have gotten to the pro level … and those who have retired.
“We’ll get them in touch with wealth advisors who can guide them on investing their money. We’ll help them with things like presenting themselves in public, whether it’s how you talk or use social media and why you should or shouldn’t tweet this or make that Facebook post because of the way it portrays you.
“It’s all just meant to create a path so you can become the CEO of you and have more opportunities and better careers.”
Wright and Pearson both said this is about not forgetting where they came from.
“You have two guys here with some prestige and vision and dedication who have genuine hearts and want to give back to people,” Pearson said
Wright agreed: “We feel obligated because we grew up here.”
And as Pearson explained, “It was instilled in both of us growing up: ‘If you get to that next level, you want to pave the way for someone else to do the same.’
“So why not do that at home? Why not water the seeds from our own city and help everybody grow?”
Without strong parents, ‘none of this is possible’
Wright and Pearson first met as kids playing for the Dayton Mohawks team, a youth basketball and mentoring program started by Pearson’s grandparents, Troy and Zell Pearson.
Wright then starred at Trotwood Madison High School, leading the Rams to the state tournament when he was a junior. But it was the following year when he got a real appreciation of who Chris Pearson really was.
“In the hallway, I’d always be rasslin’ and grabbing him and trying to put him in a headlock,” Wright said with a growing smile.
“I always knew he was into boxing, too, but one day I found out just how much. I grabbed him and ‘BOOM!’ He punched me in the side. I did abs, but he caught me good and it hurt and I was like, ‘I ain’t ever grabbing him no more!’”
Pearson, though, said he had a real appreciation of Wright by then:
“I always respected his work ethic. It wasn’t just his physical gifts, but it was his determination and will. He just walked different.
“I didn’t know what all would transpire in the future, but I just always felt he was somebody special.”
Wright saw some of the same things in Pearson and believes their comparable traits go back to their similar upbringings.
Both were raised by strong and nurturing single parents: Wright by his mom, Ernestine Grigsby and Pearson by his dad, Milt Pearson.
“After God blessing us, our parents have been the most important thing,” Wright said. “Without them, none of this is possible. They’re the strong ones. We saw the way they helped people in the community and they made sure we stayed humble and developed caring hearts. No question at all, we got this from them.”
While Wright and Pearson went off on divergent careers, they kept an eye on each other. And Wright came to one of Pearson’s fights in Las Vegas last year.
“He motivates me and I motivate him,” Wright said. “And even though we might not see each other that often, at the end of the day, if either of us needs something we’re just a phone call away.”
And it was during one of those long-distance conversations that partnering in a venture first came up.
Both wanted it geared around back home. They weren’t sure of the direction their dream would take, but then Wright stumbled upon the under-used indoor sports facility.
While initial talks had begun before the tornado, they felt the destruction of the storm made their positive venture even more important now for the community.
‘Build it and they will come’
Wright and Pearson plan to open their venture this coming fall.
They are still firming up some of the details and supporting partnerships and will announce the rest of the particulars via social media in the coming weeks.
But they are not hesitant to speak about some of their visions.
Their facility is big enough to host simultaneous indoor football and soccer practices and is big enough for an indoor softball league as well as sports like basketball, volleyball and tennis. There’ll also be fitness programs and various other activities and, hopefully, regional tournaments.
They say they even plan to train some foreign athletes. Wright played the 2015-16 season with Maccabi Rishon LeZion of the Israeli Basketball Premier League and helped it win its first-ever league crown. Recently some Israeli basketball players came to Dayton for training.
In the gym next door, Pearson hopes to attract boxers and MMA fighters of all skill sets.
“We figure. ‘Build it and they will come,’” Wright said.
He said they decided to launch this venture while both were still active in their careers because “now we have the connections.”
Just as it will help others, Pearson believes it will benefit them:
“I really believe doing something like this will keep you humble and focused and in your best form. You are supposed to share your gifts and we can do that through this.”
Wright agreed: “We’re trying to pave the way for people under us. Hopefully, kids will come into this and one day be able to surpass everything we’re doing.”
He said he hopes their effort inspires others to make a difference in the area:
“We hope other people see opportunity here, too. That they see there is life in Trotwood and they will think, ‘Let’s build a restaurant there, a hotel here.’ We hope they’ll see just how good of a community we can be.
“Yeah, the tornado hit us hard, but one thing about the Dayton area, you can try to knock us down, but we’re always going to stand up again. We’re always going to fight back.”
Pearson smiled and quietly added: “That’s in all forms or fashion.”
It was a reference to the ring, to his storm-ravaged hometown and maybe even a long-ago moment in a school hallway when he turned a headlock into a bruising left hook to the side.
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