Bishop O’Dowd assistant basketball coach Tony Freccero has seen the struggles of inner-city youth all his life.
He grew up in San Leandro, played basketball at Bishop O’Dowd and co- directs the Triple Threat Basketball camp in the heart of Oakland.
But it took a two-week trip to the Bolar Basketball School in Brazil last summer to face what he called utter poverty and hardship
No wooden floors or glass backboards at Bolar. Slick concrete slabs, leaky roofs and bent rusted rims were the allure for these basketball kids, who accepted training with wide, crooked smiles and frail frames.
“It was touching and heartbreaking at the same time,” Freccero said.
It tugged most when he noted toes sticking out of some of the Brazilian teens’ shoes. Some had no footwear at all.
This vision is at the heart of Freccero’s current brainstorm, Project Shoe Assist. Two months ago, he set up drop-off points at numerous East Bay sites for folks to donate their used sneakers that he would deliver to Bolar later this month.
His goal was to collect 500 to 1,000 pairs, but thanks to strong marketing and a generous community, Freccero is ready to unload almost 3,000 pairs.
“This has taken on a life of its own,” Freccero said. “It’s been incredible and overwhelming. We’re still getting calls from people who wanted to contribute but we’ve had to shut it down. We have to organize them now.”
The Brazilian kids won’t be scoring worn-out Chuck Taylors.
The Golden State Warriors donated 100 new pairs. So did Nike. Freccero estimates 350 shoes will be brand new. “We’ve received baby shoes to size 18,” he said. “We’ve got penny loafers, work boots, you name it and we got it.”
Forty percent of the shoes will be sent via air this week to Brazil. The other 60 percent will be transported by ship. According to Freccero, shoes, instead of money, are often offered to needy teens by South American drug dealers in exchange for them pedaling the illegal substances.
“If we can equip that same kid with his own shoes, then maybe we keep him or her off the streets and on the courts,” Freccero said.