Benner/Sports and Sports Business

Ron Hunter's bare feet top the local year in sports

December 29, 2008
I was in Colorado last January when I turned to the evening national news and there, being featured, was none other than Ron Hunter, the men's basketball coach at IUPUI.

What caused a network to come calling?

The previous evening, he had coached his Jaguars in his bare feet.

Hunter's purpose was drawing attention to an organization called Samaritan's Feet. Based in Charlotte, N.C., Samaritan's Feet's mission is to provide shoes to the millions of children in the world who don't have such a basic necessity.

Hunter had been approached by the Samaritan's Feet founder, Nigerian native Manny Ohonme, and Todd Melloh, who represents the organization's Midwest Region.

It turns out, Ohonme and Melloh had found the right man. To call Hunter "irrepressible" is like calling water, wet. And he never gives less than everything to anything he becomes involved in.

With Hunter's barefoot coaching garnering national attention, 200,000 pairs of new shows were donated. Some of those Hunter and his basketball team personally delivered to youth in Peru last summer.

And for that, Hunter is my first—and highly unofficial—Indiana Sportsperson of the Year.

"It's kind of become my baby," Hunter says of Samaritan's Feet.

And he intends to nurture it.

This year, on the weekend of Jan. 15-17, Hunter's intent is to have no less than 85 percent of all college basketball coaches coaching in their bare feet. He also is imploring professional and high school coaches to become involved.

"In 2009, the goal is 1 million shoes," says Hunter, who will travel to South Africa in the summer to make his next delivery.

Anyone wishing to donate can bring new shoes to games, or can go to samaritansfeet.org if they wish to donate cash for the effort.

"Already, it seems like people know me more for Samaritan's Feet than as the coach at IUPUI," Hunter says. "But if at the end of the day that's true, then I'll take that 10 times out of 10."

Here are my other 2008 Indiana sports awards, which come with no plaque and, certainly, no cash.

Team of the Year: Though the Cardinals didn't close the deal in the Mid-American Conference championship game, Ball State University's run to a 12-0 regular-season record was so captivating even BSU students and alumni began to care.

Coach of the Year: He still looks young enough to be asked for identification before he purchases an adult beverage, but Butler University's 31-year-old men's basketball coach Brad Stevens displayed amazing poise in guiding the Bulldogs to a school-record 30-4 season. The "Butler Way" continues.

Athlete of the Year: Peyton Manning. From two knee surgeries and a missed training camp to strong NFL MVP candidate says it all.

Indiana Olympian of the Year: Ben Davis grad and UCLA soccer star Lauren Cheney made the U.S. Women's Soccer team as an alternate. But when injuries provided an opening, Cheney made the most of it, playing significant minutes on the way to the gold-medal win over Brazil.

Comeback of the Year: Trailing 33-14 with eight minutes to play, Center Grove's prospects for beating rival Carmel in the Class 5A state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium were nearly nil. But three scores and two recovered onside kicks later, the Trojans had put together a comeback for the ages.

Play of the Year: Also from the high school ranks. Brownsburg was down a point with two seconds left in the 4A championship basketball game against Marion at Conseco Fieldhouse. But Bulldog Julian Mavunga tipped a three-quarters-of-the-floor-length pass to teammate Gordon Hayward, who threw up a prayer and had it answered as time expired.

Dumbest Mistakes That Occurred in Print of the Year: Yours truly. Last week, I wrote that Urban Meyer left the University of Toledo for Utah State University of the Mountain West Conference and then went to the University of Florida. As a number of IBJ readers were quick to point out, he actually left Bowling Green State University for the University of Utah of the Western Athletic Conference for Florida. Hey, 1 out of 3 in the big leagues gets you big money. What I got was a deserved comeuppance. I apologize for the errors.

___

Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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