Monday, January 28, 2008

Barefoot Coach raises over 100,000 pairs of shoes

IUPUI coach Ron Hunter wore his usual garb to last Thursday's home game, a black shirt, vest and slacks, ready to coach the Jaguars against Oakland University in a Summit League game.

The only things missing were his shoes.

It was the most visible facet of his campaign to collect athletic shoes for children in need in Africa, distributed by Samaritan's Feet. Hunter's original goal was collecting 30,000 pairs. After news of his endeavor started to spread and shoes started coming in, he mentioned he might increase the goal to 40,000, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By tip-off, he had 110,000 pairs.

A crowd of more than 1,000 attended the game at IUPUI Gymnasium -- and some of the students showed up barefoot, in support of Hunter.

Soles4Souls donated 40,000 pairs to the cause. Wal-Mart gave 25,000. Nine West, Converse and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security also chipped in.

"When we started this I thought 40,000 was going to be tough," Hunter told the Indianapolis Star. "When they told me before the game we already had 100,000, honestly, I almost broke down in tears."

Hunter, with a fresh pedicure, coached the Jaguars to a 82-69 victory. He's not noted for sitting down during games while he's wearing shoes, and that applied to his shoeless state as well.

"My feet hurt so bad," he told The Star after the game. "But imagine a child or a human going their whole lives without shoes."

Hunter, 43, has said he has been deeply affected by the mission he's joined, and his players have been touched as well. Some of them are intending to join Hunter this summer, when he flies to Africa to help distribute the shoes. Hunter has said he would like to go specifically to Cameroon, the homeland of Jaguars freshman guard Christian Siakam.

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