In Training

Girls practice their basketball skills at DME Academy in Daytona Beach on Thursday, Aug. 26.

Mike and Jennifer Panaggio’s lives revolve around children – lots of them, from all over the world.

From their gracious Port Orange home, they tell their story.

The couple founded DME Academy at 2441 Bellevue Ave. in Daytona Beach about five years ago. Their website describes the academy as an elite, multi-sport training and educational institution designed to help student athletes reach their potential, harness their strengths and achieve their goals.

But the academy goes way beyond that. They bring children from many countries, sixth to 12th grade, to America to experience cultures from other countries and learn to respect them.

The academy teaches students confidence and leadership skills. (The students all receive personalized business cards.) Many of the students earn scholarships and go on to college. Some of the students go back to their own countries and excel in professional sports or other careers. One graduating student is projected to be a first-round NBA draft pick.

“Our job is to give these kids a chance to get into college,” Mr. Panaggio said. “You don’t win on the scoreboard. Our job is to get kids to reach their potential.”

They direct parents to a website, athleteplus.org, which helps them understand the college application process. “We match kids up to the right college,” he explained. “Why guess when we can measure.”

Mr. Panaggio’s father, Mauro, was a huge influence in his life. His father, a basketball coach and teacher, gave him the vision for the direction of his future.

DME Academy is a family endeavor. Ms. Panaggio, a native of China and a U.S. citizen for 25 years, “puts her heart and soul into the academy,” according to Mr. Panaggio, and is “one of the best contributors.” His 28-year-old son, Matt, is head basketball coach at the academy. Mr. Panaggio’s younger brother, Dan, is also a contributor. His 25-year-old daughter, April, and Ms. Panaggio’s 26-year-old daughter, Angelina, both work in Serbia at DME Video, which specializes in video and animation. Mr. Panaggio has a 39-year-old daughter, Jaclyn, who is a doctor. The Panaggios also have four grandchildren.

DME Academy has 110 students from around the world this year. There is even a day camp at DME for younger children (ages 3-4) to get them involved in sports. DME Sports also has 1,400 local children involved in volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, figure skating and hockey. Even in 90 degree weather, skating goes on daily at the ice skating rink in South Daytona’s Sunshine Plaza. DME Sports upgraded the ice rink, one of only 17 in Florida, about four years ago. The ice skating rink is open to the public.

Eric Perrin, a former professional hockey player for the Tampa Bay Lightning, his wife and his daughter all work for DME, and his son is enrolled in school at DME. Athletic director for DME is Laura Steagall, whose husband is head basketball coach at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

“Everything is about getting great leaders to teach the kids,” Mr. Panaggio said. “The right people make the difference.”

They hand pick specialty teachers in each core subject. For example, Mr. Panaggio explained, teachers in math or Spanish can help students individually. He added, “We believe in fostering one-on-one, teacher-student relationships.”

The Panaggios spent millions building and staffing the 168-bed facility and school on Bellevue. Ms. Panaggio explained 100% of the money comes from DME Holdings, their 40-year-old business endeavor. No outside investors are involved. But they do have a lot of local support, including Halifax Health, which provides medical assistance.

“We help support local colleges and they support us,” Mr. Panaggio said.

For example, Stetson University girls’ volleyball team is staying at DME dorms while Stetson is redoing its gymnasium.

The Panaggios’ good friends Lowell and Nancy Lohman helped by inviting DME graduating seniors from 25 different countries to a party at their home, even picking up the graduates in a limo.

Tuition for room, board, meals (they have a chef to prepare meals), transportation and classes can cost up to $45,000, but many students pay less. If a student can’t return home to their country after completing school due to expenses or Covid-19 travel restrictions, some local community members help out by supporting and mentoring students.

“We integrate kids from all over the world,” Mr. Panaggio said. “The basketball court doesn’t care about the color of your skin or your religion. The court only cares if you are true to the game, the teammates and yourself.

“A lot of the kids want to be pros, but most won’t make it,” he continued. “So we train them to be good people. Leadership is not a skill you are born with. It is a skill that is taught.”

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