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12/09/08 8:20 PM EST

'Hunter Project' expands to educate

Charity introduces scholarship, development opportunities

LAS VEGAS -- The Torii Hunter Project has long been associated with helping to promote the game of baseball to inner-city youth. But now, Hunter is using his foundation to support another issue close to his heart -- education.

In a press conference at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on Tuesday, where the Winter Meetings are being held, the Angels' Gold Glove outfielder announced the launch of The Torii Hunter Project's Education Initiative. The program is set to provide college scholarship and character development to students in Las Vegas, Anaheim, Minneapolis and Hunter's hometown of Pine Bluff, Ark.

"When we came up with the Torii Hunter Project, we started by trying to work with Little League baseball," Hunter said. "But I wanted to go over and beyond just trying to get kids interested in playing the game of baseball. I wanted to bring them education, health care and to help out in the community, different things like that."

This new education initiative will be operated by the Heart of a Champion Foundation and will focus on two aspects: the Hunter's Hundred scholarship program and the Heart of a Champion character education curriculum.

As part of Hunter's Hundred, a total of 100 students from Anaheim, Pine Bluff and Las Vegas will receive college scholarships over the next four years. Starting with the 2009-10 school year, 25 scholarships will be presented to select high school graduates from the Orangewood Children's Home in Orange, Calif., the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas and the Pine Bluff school district.

Agassi, the famed tennis star who is a native of Las Vegas, was on hand for the announcement on Tuesday along with Hunter's agent, Larry Reynolds, and Jim Riach, the founder and board chairman of the Heart of a Champion Foundation. Agassi thanked Hunter for his support of the public charter school, which is located in the most economically challenged area of Las Vegas. The school will celebrate its first graduating class this June.

"Because of Torii and his support and his recognition to the importance of education in these children's lives, these children at my school who dedicated years to achieving a goal, he's giving them a chance to continue that dream," Agassi said.

The Heart of a Champion character education will be delivered to close to 7,000 middle school and junior high school students in Anaheim, Pine Bluff and Minneapolis. It focuses on reinforcing positive character by promoting nine core character traits: commitment, leadership, perseverance, teamwork, respect, integrity, responsibility, self control and compassion. Although it will begin small, the goal is that in the next four years the program will be delivered to over 50,000 students.

Along with the Torii Hunter Project, Hunter and his wife, Katrina, have taken part in numerous charitable efforts. That includes building baseball facilities in Orange County and Pine Bluff, in addition to making monetary contributions to other endeavors involving youth.

But for Hunter, this latest endeavor has a little extra special meaning, especially considering that his mother was a teacher, herself, back in Pine Bluff.

"When I was child, mom told me I couldn't go to baseball practice or football practice or any practice if I didn't do my homework," Hunter said. "Man, I thought she was evil [laughs] ... But as I got older, I understand how important education really was. I look at my children now, and whenever they come home with a B -- my kids make straight A's, I'm sorry to say. But when they come home with a B, I tell them, 'Hey, you've got to strive harder, push a little harder and try to get these A's.' So I know how important education is. I know my mother was trying to teach me that lesson early, but now I know as a parent."

The goal of the program is to raise $5 million over the next four years to fund Hunter's program, and his hope is that it can grow to be even bigger.

"I definitely want these kids to really pursue their dreams and their careers, and I want to be very influential in doing that," the outfielder added. "I hope that other baseball players will join in and help out with this cause, and we will keep going, keep the Torii Hunter Project going, and do some great things in this world, this state, this community."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.