INDIANAPOLIS — For IUPUI coach Ron Hunter, the game on Saturday is all about the shoes.
He’s taking his off to help collect more for the world’s impoverished children.
It’s Hunter’s fourth annual shoeless home game. He will go barefoot against South Dakota State and endure sore feet for a few days for the sake of charity.
“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t do something for this cause,” Hunter said Thursday night, just minutes after beating North Dakota State 67-64. “You know, if I couldn’t do this, I’d never take another job. Thankfully, our chancellor here allows me to do it.”
Going shoeless has never been easy for a coach known for pacing the sidelines, talking with players and officials and, yes, repeatedly stomping his feet. On Thursday night, the man who once celebrated winning a conference tourney with a bellyflop in a suit, put another black mark on the courtside advertisement by kicking the scorer’s table.
Try doing that without shoes.
“Usually, I tell the players ‘I’m going shoeless, so play hard.’ If I had gone shoeless today, I would have broken my foot,” said Hunter, with a laugh.
He considers that a small price given what he has witnessed since 2008, his first shoeless game. Back then, he was imploring IUPUI fans to join him in going barefoot. Now others have joined the cause.
Last year, more than 2,000 college, prep and AAU coaches went without shoes. Last Easter, nearly 1,000 pastors across America also preached in bare feet and some governors worked without shoes.
This year, the North Carolina-based charity has already received commitments from more than 1,000 coaches, including John Calipari of Kentucky, Paul Hewitt of Georgia Tech, Bob McKillop of Davidson and Brad Stevens of Butler.
“It took one man (Hunter) to say yes and that ripple effect has continued throughout the last three years,” said Todd Melloh, the Samaritan’s Feet spokesman.
Hunter’s goal this year is to collect 150,000 pairs of shoes, 50,000 of which will go to Houston’s impoverished children during the Final Four. He did the same thing in Detroit and Indy the past two years. There has been some discussion about starting a similar tradition at the women’s Final Four.
The NCAA has gotten involved, too, organizing the distribution of shoes and recruiting athletic directors and university presidents to help. This summer, Hunter is planning to spend five weeks overseas, handing out shoes.
And the program seems to expand every year.
For the first time in 2010, Samaritan’s Feet volunteers washed feet and gave shoes to Indy’s impoverished children on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
On Monday, 12 more cities will take part in the activities. Celebrities ranging from poet Maya Angelou to television announcer and former NBA player Clark Kellogg, and musician Big Kenny of the country music duo Big & Rich are scheduled to participate. Jay Hein, the former White House director of Faith Based Initiatives, is also expected to help.
“We’ve always washed the feet, and that’s what differentiates us,” Melloh said. “We believe the exchange between the recipient and the giver is an amazing exchange of love.”
Since the organization started in 2003, it has handed out more than 2 million pairs of shoes around the globe. Yet Hunter knows that’s still not nearly enough.
The group says more than 300 million children worldwide go shoeless every day. In almost every interview, Hunter encourages people to experience life without shoes for a day.
This year, Hunter has promised to go barefoot at any game where the opposing coach does the same. There have already been two takers — North Dakota State’s Saul Phillips and South Dakota State’s Scott Nagy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave much time to recover between the games on Feb. 10 and 12.
But Hunter, who is 3-1 all-time in barefoot games, isn’t worried about his feet or wins or losses.
“I’ll always do it on Martin Luther King weekend, whether we’re home or away. And if we’re away, I’ll do it again at home another time,” Hunter said. “It’s really about losing your comfort level a little bit, and when I get off the plane in those countries and I see those kids, it’s like Christmas Day because their eyes just light up. You just can’t believe it.”
On the net: http://samaritansfeet.org/