Georgia State men’s basketball coach Ron Hunter will coach barefoot on Jan. 12 against UNC-Wilmington to support Samaritan’s Feet, a charity he has worked with for several years.
Hunter has been coaching one game barefoot each season for the past five years. The goal is to help raise $100,000 to begin to provide shoes for the more than 3 million children around the world that don’t have a pair.
Ten dollars will allow Samaritan’s Feet to provide shoes and socks to a child.
The Panthers will host Florida International tonight.
Here’s a story I wrote about Hunter and Samaritan’s Feet earlier this year:
Hunter knows free shoes can change a life
To understand why Ron Hunter is traveling halfway around the world to a politically unstable country, it’s necessary to hear how a pair of red-and-white high tops and a pair of black and white soccer shoes changed three lives.
Hunter, Georgia State’s basketball coach since March, will travel with Samaritan’s Feet, a charitable organization he has supported for the past four years, to Nigeria on Thursday to spend a week giving away more than 85,000 pairs of free shoes to children and, if they are interested, to talk about Christianity.
Samaritan’s Feet, founded by a Nigerian Manny Ohonme and based out of Charlotte, has given away millions of shoes around the world in an attempt to eliminate the foot-borne parasitic diseases that kill or maim more than a million people every year.
Hunter will be there with Ohonme trying to make a difference, just like Ohonme did with Ibrahim Sani six years ago.
Sani was born in northern Nigeria, the son of a village imam. Sani had what he thought was a good life. Because Sani was the first son, his life was planned before he could dream. He was to follow his father as a religious leader.
Muslims were the majority in his region. Sani said he burned down churches, more than he can count, in the name of Allah at the direction of his father.
During Ramadan, the holiest holiday to Muslims, Sani and others were in a mosque praying on a most unusual day. Christians were yelling outside the church.
Sani became enraged. He and his friends sought out a church that night, determined to burn it as payback for the Christians’ disrespect. Sani broke from his group, sprinting ahead so that he could be the first to light the blaze.
Just as he reached the building, he stopped. He began to hear voices talking about “this Jesus,” as he calls him. He ran back home. He read the Koran, trying to find out more about “this Jesus.” He was confused.
Sani soon felt the pull of Christianity. He said he felt that for the first time he understood truths.
Out of fear, he waited a few days before telling his father of his conversion. Finally, the moment came. His father denounced him. He ordered the villagers to execute his first son. Sani ran.
He eventually reached a Christian boarding facility five hours away — and later met Ohonme.
Ohonme was born in Nigeria, son of parents who worked for the government. Ohonme had what he thought was a good life. He went to school during the day. Afterward, he would sell water on the streets. Though his parents had jobs, they survived on $1 a day.
They didn’t feel poor. They were able to eat at least once a day. They felt blessed. They knew there was more. His mother encouraged him to dream.
What are the dreams of a 9-year-old shoeless boy selling water in the streets? Ohonme soon found out.
One day, a group of missionaries from Wisconsin arrived with a basketball, which Ohonme had never seen. They held a contest. The winner would get a free pair of shoes. Ohonme put down his basket and entered. “I didn’t know it would be one of the greatest decisions I ever made,” he said.
Ohonme won. He was given his first pair of shoes, a pair of red-and-white high tops.
Ohonme continued to play. He became so good that North Dakota offered him a scholarship. He completed his education, eventually earning a master’s degree. He took a job as an executive with a technology company.
Ohonme returned to Nigeria when his father passed away in 1997. Little had changed. Children were walking around with no shoes and no hope. Ohonme decided he must do something. He must give those kids the same chance to dream that he was given. However, he had no idea what or how.
He began to think about how he was helped. It took a few years, but Ohonme realized he had a bigger purpose. In 2003, he left his job and started Samaritan’s Feet.
Hunter was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of a mother who was a social worker. Hunter had a good life. He would go to school in the morning, but basketball was his love. His mother, Janice, knew that he would hide a basketball in the bushes near their home and pick it up before he would get on the school bus. He didn’t want her to know that sometimes he was playing instead of studying.
He wasn’t a selfish boy. Janice instilled in him the desire to help the less fortunate. Like Ohonme, Hunter earned a basketball scholarship. He eventually became coach at IUPUI. There he met Ohonme.
In 2007, Ohonme and his organization looked for a coach who could help Samaritan’s Feet accomplish its goal of giving away 10 million pairs of shoes to 10 million children. They had a plan: They wanted someone to coach a game in their bare feet. Many names were tossed out: Bruce Pearl, Mike Krzyzewski … and then Ron Hunter’s name came up.
“Who is Ron Hunter?” Ohonme recalls asking.
His assistants told him that Hunter cares about more than basketball. He wants to teach life lessons. They agreed to meet at Hunter’s office in Indianapolis. Ohonme walked in and behind Hunter was the largest photo of Dr. Martin Luther King that Ohonme had ever seen.
“Did you know without him you wouldn’t be coaching here?” Ohonme said. “You can help others the way he helped you.”
Hunter coached his first game in his bare feet Jan. 24, 2008. More than 140,000 pairs of shoes were donated. Hunter has coached one game barefoot each season since. He has inspired dozens of coaches to do the same.
Nigeria will be the fifth trip Hunter has made with Samaritan’s Feet. He has been to Peru, Costa Rica, Nigeria once before and to South Africa. Ohonme has made many trips. In April 2005, he met Sani.
Sani began playing soccer at the boarding school. He hoped to become a professional until a tackle broke his leg. Four surgeries were needed to repair the damage. He was still angry a year later.
Samaritan’s Feet was in Nigeria washing feet and giving away shoes. Ohonme gave Sani a pair of back-and-white Nike turf shoes, which Sani said he had been longing to have.
They began talking. Ohonme asked Sani about his past. He asked about his dreams. How could he help him?
Sani told him he wanted to go to South Africa. Ohonme made it happen. Eventually, he helped Sani move to Orlando. Today, Sani lives in Charlotte and will work for Samaritan’s Feet. He can’t forget his past, but the visions that keep him up at night inspire him to help others.
Sani, 27, wants to go to on this trip, but the necessary paperwork may not be approved in time. In truth, he’s scared to return. He assumes that his father thinks he has died. He’s not sure what would happen should his father find out he’s in Nigeria. He hasn’t spoken to anyone in his family in nine years, but he’s tired of running.
He wants to open a soccer clinic in his country to help children. He wants to open more in South Africa, China and Jordan. It’s a big dream, one Samaritan’s Feet has helped keep alive.
“To Americans it may seem like just another humanitarian organization,” Sani said. “I’m able to share the life of thousands of kids because many took a chance on me, just like someone took a chance on Manny.”
That’s why Hunter will travel halfway across the world. You never know when that next pair of black-and-white soccer shoes or red-and-white high tops will do more than just save a life. They may just inspire a dream.
“It’s my national championship,” Hunter said.