INDIANAPOLIS — For once, Ron Hunter won't be able to kick.
Hunter will coach barefoot in IUPUI's game against Oakland University on Thursday to raise awareness for needy children. His goal is to send 40,000 pairs of shoes to Africa in honor of the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"If a five- or six-year-old kid can walk around their entire life with no shoes on, then surely, in a warm climate, in a basketball environment, I can do it,'' he said. "They may not hear my stomps like they usually do.''
Hunter is working through a Charlotte, N.C. charitable organization called Samaritan's Feet, which was founded four years ago by Emmanuel "Manny'' Ohonme.
A native of Nigeria, Ohonme received his first pair of shoes at the age of 9 from an American missionary. He eventually earned a scholarship to play basketball at the University of North Dakota-Lake Region.
Samaritan's Feet wants to send 10 million pairs of shoes to children around the world in 10 years.
Story behind Samaritan's Feet
Hunter said he learned about Samaritan's Feet after a mutual friend gave his number to Ohonme. Samaritan's Feet came up with the idea for Hunter to go without shoes.
"They told me the idea, and at first I kind of laughed, because I thought surely they were joking about that,'' he said. "But they weren't.''
Then, Hunter remembered a recruiting trip to Lagos, Nigeria, four years ago, where he saw examples of extreme poverty. That, the call from Ohonme and prayer were enough to persuade him to go shoeless for a night.
Hunter told his team about the mission, and it moved freshman Christian Siakam, who is from Cameroon.
"He said a lot of college athletes, when they get their free pair of shoes, they take those things for granted. There's so many kids, including people in his family, that don't have shoes. It's hitting home with him,'' Hunter said.
"I knew we were doing the right thing when I saw the look on his face.''
Those attending the game have also been asked to go barefoot, and Hunter said many IUPUI students said they would.
Helping the mission
Hunter said he has accumulated more than 30,000 pairs of shoes. Many of them have been shipped directly to North Carolina, but the mission has turned his office into a warehouse.
"My office is filled with nothing but shoes right now,'' he said.
The collection includes a surprise donation he discovered after practice Tuesday.
"There were 20 bags of new shoes sitting there with a note that said 'Coach, hope this helps,''' Hunter said. "I have no idea who brought those over.''
Hunter plans to take the shoes to Africa in July. He's not sure where he'll go — he'll leave that to Samaritan's Feet — but he'd like to go to Cameroon in honor of Siakam. He said many of his players want to go with him.
"I was really happy to see the players wanting to help on this mission,'' he said.
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