The event was part grand opening and part grand testimonial.
The First Tee of Miami’s Family Learning Center at International Links-Melreese opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday as many Miami dignitaries showed up to see the new facility that melds education and sports together.
But nearly everyone — actually, the nearly isn’t needed, it was everyone — took time to praise the vision and persistence of the man who fought so long, so hard and sometimes so stubbornly for its existence.
That would be Charlie DeLucca, a man who believes in kids, believes in education and believes in ethical values.
Those elements will all come together at the Learning Center.
Kids will come to the center after school and there will be tutoring and sports waiting for them. No, it will not be like finishing a full day of school and then going to more school. A single tutoring session will last no longer than 30 minutes, then it’s time to go outside and whack a few golf balls or shoot some baskets.
“It will be fun, not work,” said Charlie DeLucca Jr., who combined with his father to help finalize this project that took almost 20 years from visualization to existence.
Said Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado: “This is a symbol that in this city sports and education can be combined for something good. I thank Charlie so much, but I also know it’s dangerous to give him the mike an let him speak. He’s a bit passionate about what he’s doing.
“For years, he has pleaded with us to help him do this. Finally, he has it.”
Regalado was asked if given a choice, would he rather talk about the Learning Center or the shiny, new and controversial Marlins Stadium located not far away from International Links.
There was no hesitation.
“Definitely, the center,” he said. “The Marlins stadium, that was very political and one-sided. This place, it’s the real thing. It’s the future. It’s about kids.”
Miami Commissioner Willy Gort also praised DeLucca.
“This is a venture led by a man who knows golf and also knows kids,” he said.
Mike Cooper, the Southeast Regional Director for First Tee, said: “This is the finest learning center in the First Tee network, bar none. There is no location that can impact lives more than this place. Charlie DeLucca is a legacy. I actually thought he was done having legacies, but I guess not. He has just done another one.”
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was on hand, as were many officials from the PGA Tour, Cadillac and Trump Enterprises, all strong donors and advocates of the program. The Learning Center building is 5,500 square feet at an expense in the $2 million range and is now stocked with numerous new computers, printers and other electronics.
DeLucca listened to all the compliments and then addressed the crowd of several hundred.
“They’re right, I have a real bad habit of saying what I think,” he admitted with a laugh.
Then he did say what he thought.
“Seriously, there is no motive behind what we do in trying to help kids,” DeLucca said. “This center is some history being created. It has been a good day.”