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South Jordan Journal

SoJo takes a timeout for Wojo — middle school is renamed for the day

Apr 12, 2024 11:49AM ● By Julie Slama

School, district and city leaders rename South Jordan Middle School to Wojo Middle School for a day after Utah Stars coach Steve Wojciechowski and his team donated much needed basketballs to the school. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

South Jordan Middle School physical education teacher Joseph Herendeen didn’t know when he put in a classroom grant request for new basketballs it would result in renaming the school.

“I put a request in for new basketballs because the rubber is coming off the balls and you see the black underneath; they’re really in bad shape,” he said. “But I didn’t think I got enough donations. Then, I was surprised by the Stars donating the basketballs. It’s unbelievable.”

The Salt Lake Stars, the Jazz’s NBA G League team, presented the teacher with 30 balls for students to use as well as an autographed team ball to showcase.

“I have a ton of students who love basketball and are talented players. It’s one of their favorite sports. This is going to mean so much,” he said.

Stars coach Steve Wojciechowski, or Wojo, as he is commonly known, received the honor of having South Jordan Middle, or SoJo Middle, be renamed  Wojo Middle School for the day on March 13.

“This is a first; it’s an honor,” he told a gathering of students, faculty and staff. “It was fantastic to have you students at our game because it was our best crowd of the year. When you have a full building of enthusiastic young people, it gives juice to everybody on our team as well as our coaches and staff.”

Wojciechowski compared his role of coach to that of a teacher.

“My job is like a teacher’s job, so I have great empathy and appreciation for what teachers go through,” he said. “When I was your age, my best mentors outside of my family were my coaches and teachers. They were always people I could go to whether things were going great and asking ‘how do I keep it going?’ or what I should do when I hit a rock. Teachers take care of you and they are there for you.”

The 3,600 Jordan School District teachers, like Herendeen, can submit requests for a $500 grant annually through Donors Choose, said Jordan Education Foundation board member Jason Casto.

“Instead of the Foundation funding it 100%, we match donations on a matching day from a foundation or company on a certain day,” he said. “This way, we have been able to award $6.3 million in classroom grants in the last eight years. We’ve funded 11,914 classroom grants for 3,258 different teachers. We’ve been able to take advantage of some of those big things and we’ve also been pleasantly surprised how many people — 2,252 —from out of state are donors and find a project they resonate with and want to support.”

The 15-year board member said most classroom grants requested are “tied to some kind of book material” like instruction books and training manuals as well as technology. Supplies often are requested as well.

As JEF Executive Director Mike Haynes handed out Wojo Middle School T-shirts that matched the school’s marquee, he said this is the first time a school has been renamed. 

“This is fun; it’s entertaining,” he said. “We get to honor a leader in our community and the Stars are aiding our students. It’s a win.”

Superintendent Anthony Godfrey agreed: “It’s a good way to build relationships with our community and our partners who support our students.”

The idea to rename the school Wojo Middle came from Utah Jazz and Salt Lake City Stars public relations coordinator Megan Zipfel.

“I can’t say enough about coach,” she said. “His career is extensive; I’m so happy we got to do this for him.”

As Principal Curtis Jenson passed the big scissors to 34-year veteran math teacher Laurie Petersen to do the official cutting of the ribbon for the school’s new name, leaders gathered around the students for the official photo with the coach. The snow leopard, the school’s mascot, joined in. 

An early spring snowstorm continued to fall.

“It’s a great day to be a snow leopard, literally,” Wojciechowski said. λ