Coach Collects Shoes for Brazilian Athletes

Last summer under the leaky roof of a gym in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tony Freccero gave the T-shirt he was wearing to the winner of a basketball contest.

Freccero was struck by the boy’s enthusiastic reaction: He didn’t complain that it was the wrong size or slightly damp with sweat.

The former California State University, Hayward, basketball player and director of Triple Threat Academy in Oakland is returning to Brazil in August. This time he hopes to offer even more to the teenage athletes, many of whom play barefoot or with inadequate shoes.

Freccero, a San Leandro resident, launched a campaign last week called Project Shoe Assist, inspired by the pile of old basketball shoes in his closet. Hoping that Bay Area residents will clear their closets of outgrown or unused athletic shoes, he has set up a number of drop-off sites in Hayward, San Leandro, Castro Valley, Alameda, San Carlos and Oakland.

Tony Freccero (right) and Lou Richie, of Triple Threat Academy, collect basketball shoes at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland. Freccero will be delivering the donated shoes to the Bolar Basketball School in Brazil in August.

He hopes to ship about 1,000 pairs of athletic shoes of all sizes to South America before his arrival. He can’t wait to see the kids’ faces when they see his surprise.

“It will probably be pandemonium, to tell you the truth,” he said, with an easy smile.

Freccero, 27, was so moved by his two-week experience with the nonprofit Bolar Basketball School last July that he decided to stay for three months this time.

The school, which is single-handedly run by Brazilian native Rogerio Werneck, is

set amid the makeshift slums, or favelas, like those depicted in the film “City of God.” The basketball court is made of concrete and is usually slick with rain and condensation from the thick, hot air. The rims are bent.

But Freccero, who is learning Portuguese, sees the court as a place of hope for the nearly 50 teenage boys who go there. Not only does it keep them busy and out of trouble; basketball skills, he hopes, might help some of them earn scholarships to college. He also plans to hold a basic English class at the gym.

“I’m hoping to take it to the next level,” he said.

This might not be Freccero’s last shoe-collecting project, either. Depending on the success of this drive, he said, he might do another one somewhere else in the world.

“The beauty of it is, there’s always going to be used shoes,” he said.