Wiedmer: Hoops for Haiti needs to broaden

Wiedmer: Hoops for Haiti needs to broaden

January 27th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Blogssec

The University of Kentucky basketball program isn't always easy to embrace. It can be too big, too brash, even a bit too brazen at times.

But every member of the NCAA - especially those wealthy major conference schools - should move as quickly as possible to emulate Big Blue's recent Hoops for Haiti initiative.

Put together by coach John Calipari on less than two days notice following Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, the five-hour telethon raised over $1 million on a single Sunday afternoon.

Calipari had his top-ranked Wildcats man many of the phones. Coach Cal and actress Ashley Judd - arguably the team's most famous fan - auctioned off a dinner at the Calipari home cooked by Judd's personal chef that would be hosted by the actress and the coach's family. The winning bid was $100,000.

The event was such a success that President Barack Obama called the Wildcats on Tuesday afternoon - less than eight hours before the start of their game at South Carolina - to thank them for their generosity and compassion.

"Obviously, everybody admires the great team you have," Obama said. "But the main reason I'm calling is to thank you, in the middle of the season, for taking the time to do something like this for people that you don't know."

Few Chattanoogans know Haiti better than Ron Bishop of SCORE (Sharing Christ Our Redeemer Enterprises) International. The former Tennessee Temple University coach and athletic director first went to the impoverished nation when he was 18.

"It was a disaster then," he said. "But nothing in my lifetime has come close to what happened there with this earthquake."

Bishop is flying to Jacmel, Haiti, this weekend on a plane loaded with medical supplies, food and water. He said that at least "10 percent of Jacmel's population is dead."

He also believes that before the nightmare is over, the death toll for the entire country could reach 500,000.

And just like Calipari, Bishop hopes basketball throughout Tennessee and Georgia high schools can help raise money for Haiti.

"We'll have to clear this with both states' athletic associations," Bishop said Tuesday afternoon. "But our plan is to get both boy and girl players from every high school in both states to raise money by shooting 1,000 free throws each on the weekend of the Final Four (April 3-5).

"We want them to find sponsors for every free throw. Have people pledge a penny a shot ($10), a nickel a shot ($50), a dime a shot ($100). Maybe a business could pledge one dollar a shot ($1,000). We really think if we can get enough kids involved we can raise at least $100,000."

Any individual or school interested in SCORE's "Hoops for Haitians" fundraiser should call 894-7111 and speak to either Gus Hernandez or Tim Swaney.

But that's for Georgia and Tennessee high schools. What about the rest of the NCAA joining Kentucky's cause, which turned its money over to the American Red Cross?

Think Tim Tebow manning the phones at a Florida telethon wouldn't bring some green? What about North Carolina legend Michael Jordan and current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams joining forces for a few hours?

Let Bob Knight finally mend fences with Indiana and see how much the Hoosier State would pledge. Or he could toss chairs for $10,000 a pop. Heck, to beat Kentucky's total, Knight might cover the entire $1 million by himself.

And Bama could bury them all. Just put Joe Namath, Major Ogilvy, Ozzie Newsome and Johnny Musso on the same stage with Heisman winner Mark Ingram and Nick Saban and you might need to rent out Fort Knox to hold the Tide's gift.

The NCAA enforcement staff even could join in. Just make Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin and his staff pay $1 for every cell phone call they've made to a Tennessee recruit the last two weeks and Haiti could be paved with yellow brick roads by the end of the year.

As Obama finished his remarks to the Wildcats on Tuesday, he told them, "Some of you are going to be going on to the NBA. Some of you are going to be doing other things with your lives. I hope that spirit of doing for others continues."

We should all hope that the rest of our most prominent and powerful intercollegiate athletic programs continue Kentucky's spirited relief effort for Haiti.