Now, for the backside story on why University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bear coach Matt Daniel bared his soles Wednesday night.
And the saga of bare-footed Bear coaches has probably not ended.
The University of Central Arkansas’ athletic department has embraced the "Samaritan’s Feet’ project, which provides shoes for impoverished youngsters in 62 countries.
Giving shoes to youngsters who don’t have them or don’t have access or means to get them may not seem a big deal until one considers how many terrible diseases and infections can occur from a basic cut, scratch or bite on bare feet or from walking through water or earthly elements laden with all kinds of bacteria.
The movement began in a very simple fashion. A missionary gave a child in Nigeria, who was living in poverty, a pair of shoes. Those shoes allowed Manny Obonme to develop his basketball skills and eventually play college basketball in North Dakota.
Now a marketing executive, Obonme never forgot the opportunity an inexpensive pair of shoes afforded him. That’s when he founded "Samaritan’s Feet," which in the last few years has provided 3.5 millions shoes to children in poverty throughout the world.
The project took legs a few years ago with Ron Hunter, currently the basketball coach at Georgia State but then the coach at IUPUI, coached a game in his bare feet to draw attention to the cause. It got national attention and resulted in money raised for 40,000 shoes in six weeks.
And the idea spread throughout the college sports community as more and more coaches began coaching games in their bare feet in order to give the project a solid foothold.
That brings us to a UCA meeting at 1:30 p.m. last Wednesday. Graham Gibbs, the central Arkansas representative for "Samaritan’s Feet," (who has a graduate’s degree from UCA) outlined the project for some of the athletic staff.
"He asked if this would be something we could gather together around as a department," said Brad Teague, athletic director. "Some of our coaches were on the road, but it just so happened Matt Daniel was here because the Sugar Bears had a game that night. He told us that he had seen this before and wanted to do something."
That was early Wednesday afternoon. With the help of Josh Goff (assistant sports information director) and Kirby Smith (videoboard/media coordinator), a video highlighting the project was quickly developed for the video board at the Farris Center.
Within a few hours, about 7 p.m., Daniel was barefoot on the court at the Farris Center and the video was flashing on the large screen.
Suddenly, the digital video froze.
Daniel took the microphone and walked to midcourt and asked for the spotlight.
"I’m a proud representative of this university as we stand strong and give back to those less fortunate," he said.
The moving short video was fixed and shown in its entirety as Daniel walked barefoot to meet with his team.
Daniel’s gesture not only drew attention to the cause but represented a commitment. Coaches who elect to coach a game in their bare feet commit to also raising $1,000 that will provide, under the foundation established by "Samaritan’s Feet, shoes for 100 youngsters through the world.
The UCA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, composed of athletes from every sport, has already designated the money raised through its annual pancake breakfast to go to "Samaritan’s Feet."
"But why limit it to basketball?" Teague said. "David Kuhn, our softball coach, has already said he will coach a game bare-footed and I think other coaches will do that also."
That’s part of the awareness and fundraising campaign.
Another global layer of the project is for coaches and athletes to travel to countries and personally give the shoes to children in need. Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari is among those who have done this.
Then, there’s a local layer, where players and coaches work in the community they live to provide shoes for the needy.
"That’s where we eventually want to have an impact," Teague said. "It’s not just internationaal. There are kids in our city and community and in Arkansas who need shoes and we want to help them. The important part of this for us is how, not only can it make a global impact, but it can make an impact right where we live."
And a "no-sole" effort can develop a soul.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)