There is no guaranteed way to excite students for a new school year, but letting them meet a TV celebrity doesn't hurt.

More than 200 Anniston students, parents and teachers packed the Carver Center on Thursday morning for a back-to-school celebration. The event, sponsored by the city, the Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention and the Anniston Housing Authority, was held to motivate students for the start of the school year and encourage them to get good grades.

The new school year begins Aug. 11 in Anniston.

The city had planned to host free games, rides and swimming throughout the day, however, those were cancelled due to the threat of rain. Those events were rescheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.

Along with students from all of Anniston's seven schools, there were also students from schools in Saks, Wellborn, White Plains, Munford, Jacksonville and Oxford. Several city officials were there to help motivate the students, from Mayor Vaughn Stewart and Councilman Seyram Selase to Superintendent Darren Douthitt.

"God gave us all talents — we're all the best at something," Stewart said to the large crowd of students, who sat sat cross-legged on the Carver Center's gym floor. "But you won't know what that talent is unless you stay in school."

The guest speaker was Carl Anthony Payne, an actor best known for his role as Cole on the TV series "Martin," which aired in the 1990s. He also had a recurring role as Theo Huxtable's best friend, Cockroach, on "The Cosby Show."

Payne said he grew up in the projects of Harlem and if it wasn't for theater, acting and the decision to follow his dreams, he doesn't know where he'd be today.

"I once thought, when growing up, that there was no possible way that I would ever be on TV and make lots and lots of money," Payne said. "But I had a dream and I believed in it."

Payne said to the students that they should always believe in themselves and put forth 100 percent effort in everything they do.

"Whether it be a math test, an English test, or later an application for a job, if you put forth 100 percent effort, I guarantee you'll achieve your dream every single time," Payne said. "I'm living proof."

Debris Foster of Anniston was at the event with her 10-year-old grandson, who attends White Plains Elementary.

"I think this is wonderful, it's great to see the kids and parents here," Foster said of the event. "It's great that they've got good examples and role models out here."

Katherine Pope of Anniston, was also impressed with the event. Pope had five children at the Carver Center, with one child who attended 10th Street Elementary and another set to go there next year.

"I think it's wonderful that they do this for the community," Pope said. "I'm from Cincinnati and they don't do that there ... I think it's a great day for all the kids."

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.