Tulane Basketball’s Ron Hunter, Samaritan’s Feet ready to impact New Orleans community

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Ron Hunter
(Photo: Parker Waters)

When Ron Hunter was announced as the 25th head coach of the Tulane University men’s basketball program, he declared, “I’m not used to losing, and I’m not going to get used to losing ever.” As he pursues his goal of returning the Green Wave to the NCAA Tournament, Hunter, like every other coach in the country, will be focused on winning. However, Hunter has another motivation that drives him.

Since 2008 during his time as the head coach at IUPUI, Hunter has been an ambassador for Samaritan’s Feet, a charity that works to bring shoes to the 300 million children worldwide that are without them each day. He has used his platform of coaching to raise awareness for these children. His passion for the cause is a perfect fit in the Tulane community, which prides itself on civic service.

Founded in 2003 by Manny Ohonme, Samaritan’s Feet has brought over 7 million pairs of shoes to children in need. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Ohonme received his first pair of shoes at the age of nine from a “Good Samaritan.” Those shoes became a symbol of hope and a catalyst to his love for basketball. He earned a scholarship to play in the U.S., before beginning a career in the technology industry.

When Hunter first got the call from Ohonme about coaching a basketball game barefoot in 2008, he was blown away by the number of children around the world that had no shoes. The diseases children are inflicted with due to a lack of protection on their feet is where the need for this type of philanthropy begins. He agreed and chose the January 2008 home game against Oakland University which fell during the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

A goal was set to receive 40,000 pairs of shoes for the game, but by the time the final buzzer sounded, IUPUI was victorious 82-69, and 140,000 pairs of shoes had been donated. Hunter has gone barefoot for one game every year since 2008 and has an overall record of 11-1 in those games.

Since becoming the first to coach a game barefoot, there have been numerous coaches from a variety of sports that have joined him in the effort. He has taken many of his own teams to locations all over the world, including South Africa, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, to distribute shoes raised by coaching barefoot.

Hunter’s barefoot win over Oakland in 2008 not only helped raise awareness for his cause, it also began a trend among basketball coaches. By 2010, more than 2000 basketball coaches at the college, high school, and AAU levels went without shoes for at least one game. Hunter was recognized for his efforts with the 2009 Barefoot Coach of the Year award from Samaritan’s Feet. Other noteworthy winners have been former Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens, now with the Boston Celtics, and the University of Kentucky’s John Calipari.

“Anyone who knows me understands why Samaritan’s Feet has become such a huge part of my life,” Hunter said. “What we are doing is impacting the lives of millions of children and as much as the shoes mean to them, the hope that we are giving them is even more valuable. Hope is a powerful thing.”

Hunter has taken yearly trips to personally help deliver donated shoes to children all over the world. His previous destinations have included Peru, Nigeria, South Africa, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Spain. In 2008, when Hunter and his IUPUI team visited Peru, they traveled by bus to “the middle of nowhere” to find shoeless children, wash their feet and give them socks and shoes. When the team ran out of shoes for the day, there was still a line of families around the bus, waiting with their children, some of whom had been in line for hours. Before they left, Hunter realized he had one more pair to donate, and gave the next child in line the size 13 ½ sneakers off his own feet. “There are just so many kids,” Hunter said. “We never have enough shoes. Never.”

“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t do something for this cause,” Hunter said in 2011 while coaching at IUPUI. “You know, if I couldn’t do this, I’d never take another job.”

He held the same commitment when he was being considered at Tulane, making sure he would have institutional approval before he accepted the job.

“I go back to the first question that Coach asked me,” Tulane director of athletics Troy Dannen said at the official introductory press conference for Hunter on March 26, 2019. “He said, ‘My charity, Samaritan’s Feet, are you good with it? Would you support it?’ And I was kind of like apoplectic at the question – of course we would. What you don’t know about Tulane, Coach, is that since Hurricane Katrina, Tulane has really defined itself by community service. Your charity is our charity.’”

Hunter set high expectations for himself and the program at that same press conference, saying that under his guidance, “not only are we going to win, we’re going to win big, and we’re going to consistently win.”

As important as winning on the court is for Coach Hunter, helping people will always be his fundamental measurement of success.

“I could win every game we play, every conference championship and every national championship, and it will never equal the look on a child’s face when we wash their feet, give them a pair of socks and put a pair of shoes on their feet,” Hunter said.

His next chapter with Samaritan’s Feet begins Friday, February 28 with a shoe distribution at The Kingsley House for children in need in the New Orleans community. That event will take place on the heels of Tulane’s home conference game against Memphis, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. the following evening.

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