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Serving Through Tennis and Hoops

The extreme poverty hurt Pettaway’s heart
By Jack Graves

(November 25, 2010)   Two Ross School seniors, one of them inspired by Mark Crandall’s Hoops 4 Hope program in southern Africa, are overseeing sports-related projects designed to help youngsters who have been less fortunate than they.

At a recent gathering at Ross’s tennis center, one of these students, Spencer Kuzon, who played in the state tournament last spring, was happy to report that his project to teach tennis to a dozen first through fourth graders from East Hampton, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, Springs, and Amagansett, who otherwise would not have been availed the opportunity, was almost fully funded.

Two or three would be picked from each school once he’d weighed the schools’ recommendations, said Kuzon, who volunteered his coaching services to John Graham’s youth camp at Ross this summer. The first of the 10 hourlong clinics, which are to run through February, is to be held this week.

His goal of $4,000 — to pay for court time, professional coaching, and equipment — had almost been reached, Kuzon reported as guests sampled donations from 20 restaurants he had solicited. There was also a silent auction that day and a 50-50 raffle.

Should there be a surplus, “it will help underwrite year-round lessons for some of the kids,” he said.

“I love tennis,” Kuzon said in answer to a question, “and I want others to share the joy I have in playing it.”

He wanted to make the sport, which once was largely the province of the well-to-do, all inclusive, he added.

As has his fellow senior Brandon Pettaway, who recently raised $1,600 for Hoops 4 Hope through a 3-on-3 basketball tournament held in the school’s gym, Kuzon has, in his school-sponsored travels to other countries — Egypt, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Brazil — seen how much of the rest of the world lives. Those trips, he said, had prompted him to do the community service work in which he is engaged.

Pettaway, who has visited Tanzania and Nepal, came back from Tanzania wearing flip-flops because he had given his sneakers — as well as other clothing he had — away.

“It hurt my heart,” he said, when asked how he’d reacted to the circumstances in which the African country’s children lived. “They had nothing; the poverty was extreme. They’d wrap rags together to make a basketball, they had blisters on their feet, no sneakers, and they had to walk five kilometers to even play.”

Pettaway, who has been in love with basketball since the age of 3, and who hopes to make films on basketball and soccer here while working with MSG Varsity, said he first learned of Hoops 4 Hope when as an eighth grader he attended one of its high-powered summer clinics, with Larry Brown, Doc Rivers, and Isiah Thomas, at the Springs Recreation Center.

The 3-on-3 tournament he organized had drawn 22 teams from the North and South Forks, each of which made a Hoops 4 Hope donation to play. Canaan Campbell, J.D. Hopson, and Thomas King had won it, he said. He had also collected 20 pairs of sneakers that Hoops 4 Hope will hand out to African children.

Crandall had taught him, Pettaway continued, “how children here can make a difference there.” Moreover, his project, he said, not only was “helping kids in Africa, but also helping this school, through sports.”

The center on the Ross School’s boys basketball team, Pettaway was among scores of players who attended the New York Knicks and Ross School shooting clinics there Saturday.

During a break between the clinic for 7 through 12-year-olds and the one for those 13 and up, Crandall spoke of Hoops 4 Hope’s work, reminding the youngsters that in Africa there might be two basketballs to go around for 200 of their peers, who would be without sneakers and coaches.

“In January, we’re to begin leagues in 150 schools, and we’ve got no basketballs to speak of,” Crandall said. “In South Africa you can buy a ball; there are none in Zimbabwe.”

The good news, he said, was the fact that a German government agency, as the result of a pitch Hoops 4 Hope had made, was about to provide a consortium of five nonprofits in southern Africa with a $70,000 grant to bolster Hoops 4 Hope’s widely acclaimed youth-mentoring work there with 10,000 boys (through basketball) and girls (using soccer as the hook).

Having resumed living in Amagansett for most of year, the “unsalaried C.E.O.” hopes to extend the reach of H4H’s tested “life skills curriculum” in this country through solidifying partnerships with the National Basketball Association and various corporations.

“We can have an impact here,” said Crandall. “We’ve gotten the seal of approval from N.B.A. Cares and from the Boston Celtics, who have put into practice Ubuntu [empowering a group through empathetic thinking], but we have to come up with a marketing package so it can be plugged into American cities. If we can raise the money, we’ll be able to branch out. When it comes to the linking of sport with human development, we’re the leaders. Countries who’ve heard about us are always asking us to come. They think Hoops 4 Hope is Unicef. They don’t realize we’ve been doing this for 16 years on a shoestring, on less than a shoestring!”

Speaking of Ubuntu, Crandall said one of his assistants that day, Courtney Garneau, had recently introduced it to her East Hampton Town Recreation Department league soccer team.

“I brought a broom to our first practice,” Garneau said as she was getting ready to leave. “I said to the boys and girls, ‘See all the bristles? Each one is separate, and yet, in order for the broom to sweep, they all must work together!’ ”

“She figured that if it was good enough for the Celtics, it should work for her,” said Crandall in parting.

To read this article online via the East Hampton Star, please click here!