Jump to content
SiouxSports.com Forum

Not UND - But an awesome basketball story


Recommended Posts

IUPUI coach to go barefoot on sidelines to promote cause

Emmanuel Ohonme, or "Manny" as he is known, founded the nonprofit Samaritan's Feet in 2003 on the premise that 300 million children in the world are without shoes, many in impoverished regions where ringworm and other diseases are a continuous threat.

The organization's motto is straightforward: "Give a shoe, change a life."

Todd Melloh, an Indianapolis resident who works in the local office as director of marketing, thought it would be ideal to use basketball to spread the message. He and Hunter are friends. Melloh said he called Hunter at home late one night, and the coach accepted immediately.

"It has really changed everything that I am and how I think about things," Hunter said. "I realize how fortunate I am."

Ohonme came from Lagos, Nigeria, where he played games without shoes until he was 9. A visitor from Wisconsin gave him his first pair. Ohonme became a standout athlete in his country and received a basketball scholarship from the University of North Dakota-Lake Region. He earned undergraduate and master's degrees, became an ordained minister and led a software technology business.

But on a trip home for his father's funeral in 1997, Ohonme visited a park where children were playing basketball in bare feet, just as he had. Emotionally charged, he realized that it was time for him to make a difference.

"In 2003, I left the comforts of my job to start this," he said of the nonprofit entity that has six full-time employees and about 100 regular volunteers. "Our goal was 10 million shoes in 10 years, but we're already more than halfway there in just four years.

"I chose to make a difference in my life, and there are others now doing the same."

Hunter, who has been to Lagos, is now one of those foot soldiers. Other coaches, including those at Butler, Indiana and Purdue, also have been contacted about participating. Nike, which provides IUPUI with its shoes, has been approached.

"What coach Hunter is doing is bigger than sports," Ohonme said. "Him helping is inspiring hope not only to the cause but to others who are only learning about it for the first time."

Souls for Soles: Ex-Nigerian gives away sneakers in Africa

By Jeri Fischer Krentz


Thursday, April 15, 2004


When Emmanuel Ohonme was a boy in Nigeria, he had one pair of shoes - flip-flops - which he saved for school.

The rest of the time, he went barefoot. He and other children played barefoot. They walked the streets of Lagos barefoot. Their feet were coated with dirt, cut by glass, punctured by thorns.

Shoes were a luxury Ohonme's parents couldn't afford. Thirteen in his family - eight children, two parents, two aunts, one uncle - shared a two-bedroom cinder-block house in the city. Ohonme slept on a concrete floor until he was a teen-ager. After that, he graduated to sleeping on a wooden table.

In 1980, the summer Ohonme was 9, a volunteer from the United States came to his neighborhood to help with sports camps for children. They knew him only as Dave From Wisconsin, and he taught them games and passed out prizes.

To Ohonme, he gave a new pair of canvas sneakers.

Ohonme treated the shoes as though they were gold. When he played in them, he tried not to get them dirty. He wore them until his toes curled against the ends, then passed them down to a little brother.

Years went by. Ohonme started playing basketball and made the state team. His coach - the same man who trained the great Hakeem Olajuwon in Lagos - persuaded college recruiters in the States to watch videotapes of Ohonme's game.

Two canvas sneakers had changed his life as a boy.

Ohonme didn't know then how they would change his life as a grown man. Ohonme left Nigeria in September 1989. He had chosen a college - University of North Dakota-Lake Region - because of its basketball scholarship and attractive brochure.

At 18, he was the first young man in his family to leave home. His parents and relatives saved enough to send him with $500 and two duffel bags of belongings. They splurged and bought him a new pair of sneakers.

Ohonme flew to Rome, then waited 12 hours for a flight to the United States. From Grand Forks, N.D., he took a bus west to Devils Lake. The bus driver gave him directions, and Ohonme set off to hike the two miles to campus.

It was a Sunday. The roads were empty. The sugar beet and wheat fields were frosty. Ohonme, in his thin linen suit, felt chilled to his bones.

As he walked, a van pulled up beside him and the driver rolled down his window.

Are you Emmanuel?

Ohonme couldn't believe his ears.

Would you like a ride?

As Ohonme would soon find out, Devils Lake, a farming town of about 10,000, had been expecting him. The local newspaper had written a story about the 6-foot-4 Nigerian coming to play Royals basketball. As Ohonme walked with his duffel bags that Sunday morning, it didn't take much of a leap to figure out who he was.

Ohonme warmed to life in the United States. He had his own bed for the first time in his life. He was crowned homecoming king in 1991. He met Tracie, a Devils Lake native, at the school's Sno Daze Dance and fell in love.

On the court, Ohonme learned that basketball in the United States was less a game of run and gun, and more a game of strategy. In his second year as a forward, he averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Athletic director Duane Schwab thought Ohonme's best basketball was still ahead of him.

But after two years at Devils Lake, taking extra classes in agriculture and liberal arts, Ohonme transferred to Concordia College in Minnesota to study international relations. He considered playing professional basketball in Europe, but enrolled instead in graduate school at North Dakota State University.

With a master's degree in economics, Ohonme was recruited again - this time to a job in Charlotte. In 1996, he and Tracie bought a four-bedroom house near Ballantyne and settled into the routine of raising their growing family. Ohonme earned a six-figure salary at a company that tracks orders and inventory for businesses.

Despite his success, something was missing.

In 1997, after eight years away from home, Ohonme returned to Nigeria for his father's funeral. For the first time in his life, he was struck by the way people in Lagos lived. He hadn't noticed it as child, but this time the poverty overwhelmed him.

Back in the States, Ohonme began dreaming of going to such countries as Nigeria, India and South Africa. He wanted to find children who went barefoot like he had. He wanted to wash their feet to show love and compassion - just as Jesus washed his disciples' feet.

And he would give each one of them a pair of sneakers.

At first, he resisted. Starting a ministry to collect used shoes - who would go for that? But the calling wouldn't leave him.

So last March, Ohonme left his job and started spending his days going to breakfast meetings at churches and assemblies at schools - anywhere people would listen. Standing tall before groups in a suit and size-14 dress shoes, he told them how it felt to go barefoot.

In America, he said, people are blessed. Kids have many pairs of shoes.

But two-thirds of the world doesn't live that way. Mothers walk miles on bare feet to bring water to their families. Fathers walk barefoot in their fields. Ohonme said he also went without shoes, but because of the goodness of a stranger who came to Nigeria, he was standing where he was today.

Then he talked about his mission, Samaritan's Feet, and his goal of collecting and giving away 10 million sneakers in 10 years. It's an opportunity to bless others, he said. A soul for a sole.

Donations began trickling in. Businesses set out collection barrels. Catholic schools in the Mecklenburg area took on Samaritan's Feet as a project. The Ohonmes filled their two-car garage with sneakers, sandals, dress shoes and boots. Their children - ages 10, 7, 4 and 2 - tied on laces, buffed off smudges and sprayed used pairs with disinfectant. Some shoes still had store tags attached. Others looked as if they had tromped miles through the woods.

In November, Ohonme, his wife and nine volunteers paid their own way and flew to a settlement near Cape Town, South Africa. Among them they carried 700 shoes in giant travel bags. For 10 days, they held basketball clinics and staged concerts at a community center. At the end of the visit, they promised to give away free sneakers and have a foot-washing.

Tracie Ohonme lost track of how many feet she washed. Each time her basin turned brown with dirt, a volunteer refilled it with fresh water.

Sitting on a chair near Emmanuel Ohonme was volunteer Faye Maloney of Weddington. She remembers a 6-year-old girl who came to her line, her feet and legs covered with bleeding sores and scabs. Maloney cradled the girl's feet in her hands, dabbed at her sores with a soapy washcloth and massaged her feet with oil.

Then a 4-year-old boy came up. After Maloney washed and anointed the boy's feet, a helper brought over a pair of shoes from the stack. Maloney pulled them from the bag, and the boy's face brightened.

As she put the shoes on his feet, she couldn't hold back her tears. Of all the pairs they had brought, those light-up Monsters Inc. sneakers once belonged to her own 4-year-old son. Maloney had cleaned out his closet before the trip.

With little income over the past year, the Ohonmes have lived off their savings. For a while, Tracie, who home-schools their children, took a part-time job at Target. She started work at 4 a.m. to accommodate her teaching schedule.

"To the world, it might seem crazy," she says. "Even our really good friends look at us and say, 'Are you sure this is what you want to do?' But sometimes things don't make sense."

Through grants and donations, Samaritan's Feet hopes to raise enough money to pay Emmanuel Ohonme a salary and cover other expenses.

Meantime, he will walk this new path - a path set years ago for a barefoot boy in Nigeria with the help of a stranger from Wisconsin.

And a pair of canvas sneakers.

  • Downvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

So yea nothing to do with this, but did anyone happen to catch the show E60 on ESPN last night. Cool show where various sports reporters for ESPN do various interviews. This week they were with a D-Leaguer in Bismarck. They were walking around Bismarck commenting on how you can play BJ in the bars. Best part though, the interviewer I think unintentionally was wearing a Holy Cross shirt.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...