IUPUI coach to go barefoot at game for charity

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/