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Coach Ron Hunter Follows in Humbling Footsteps...Barefoot

Samaritan's Feet

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 11/8/2013, 6 a.m.
Coach Ron Hunter poses with Samaritan's Feet founder Emmanuel Ohonme and children that benefit from their worldwide shoe distribution initiative. Photo courtesy of Georgia State University.

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Coach Ron Hunter, GSU

It is difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, especially when that person has no shoes of their own.

But within the walls of Georgia State University’s well-furnished sports arena, a towering man softly walks an office with carpeted blue floors in a nice pair of basketball shoes is a person that understands the humility and grace it takes to do the abovementioned.

“I think every successful person just had a solid role model they looked up to—Mine just happens to be super close to me,” sophomore guard R.J. Hunter told The Atlanta Voice about the man who is his father and coach.

Georgia State University men’s head basketball coach Ron Hunter has bared his feet, in order to better serve and bring awareness to the less fortunate. He has done so via Charlotte-based Samaritan’s Feet, which is a non-profit humanitarian aid organization that collects and distributes shoes to underprivileged children throughout the world.

“When I was approached about this idea [some] years ago, I had no idea there were children that were dying from diseases of the feet, because they didn’t have shoes,” Hunter told The Atlanta Voice.

At his old stomping grounds at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, in November of 2007, Hunter who was then IUPUI’s head coach, met with Samaritan’s Feet organizers, which included his friend Todd Melloh.

The meeting was a brainstorming session about how to get the word out about Samaritan’s Feet, in which Melloh mentioned how they needed a coach to do a barefoot game. Hunter began naming high-profile coaches.

The room fell silent, as everyone looked at Hunter.

“’What, you think it’s a stupid idea?’ I asked,” Hunter recalled. “They said, ‘No, we think you should be the one to do it.’”

Needing a couple of days to digest the request, Hunter then accepted.

On the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, January 24, 2008, he coached his team against Oakland University barefoot. It was a tribute and a message.

“I have never had an athletic guy as my hero,” Hunter said, after citing MLK as his childhood hero. “I wanted to do it on that particular weekend.”

The goal was to have 40,000 shoes donated. However, things did not necessarily go according to plan.

“Before I woke up that morning, we had already raised 40,000 shoes,” he said. By tipoff, 110,000 shoes had been donated.

Now, Samaritan’s Feet has distributed millions of shoes worldwide, as more than 3,000 coaches participate in its effort. This year alone 1.3 million pairs of shoes have been donated, with Sketchers providing 1.25 million.

These feats are something Samaritan’s Feet founder Emmanuel Ohonme did not conceive himself.

“Thinking about coaches like Coach Hunter, using their platform to be the voice, I couldn’t have dreamt this,” Ohonme told The Atlanta Voice.

Ohonme’s own journey to this point began with the kind gesture of some giving him a pair of shoes. That single moment has brought about a change in the lives of many children, coaches, and athletes.