January 29, 2024

Hoops, Heart & Soles

Could you provide some insights into your background and experiences?

I am a junior at Oakwood and I’ve been on the varsity basketball team since freshman year. I’m really into sports analytics and I started a math club at Oakwood, where one of the things we do is to predict how the Yankees will do this season. I am also passionate about music and have a radio station on KOAK radio called Lyrical Motion with my friend Julian ‘25.  

What inspired you to start Shoes to Use? 

The COVID-19 pandemic began in the middle of my 8th grade year and left me feeling isolated from friends. Basketball was a safe space for me—a stress release valve. I can be on the court and just play basketball with a clear mind—it is what I love doing and I am so fortunate to have it as an outlet in my life. I began thinking about how some kids don’t have the proper footwear to play certain sports. I started Shoes To Use to give back to these young athletes so that they have the same opportunities to play.

What role do shoes play in enhancing athletic performance and overall well-being?

People must have the right footwear to prevent injury, but it’s also a self-confidence thing. If someone isn’t wearing basketball shoes, or even an athletic shoe when they play, they can feel as though they don’t belong there. I want to help to build their confidence. During our most recent donation at the Ritchie Valens Recreation Center, the kids received their new shoes and immediately laced them up for practice. I noticed how quickly their demeanor changed on the court. Also, If you’re rockin’ the shoes of an NBA player/your hero, you’re going to have the confidence to get out there and play!

How do you establish connections with recreation centers, and what does the process entail?

I start by looking for a recreation center—Steve Smith has been helping me with this part, too.  I’ll go online and get all of the contact information and speak to them on the phone before going to meet them in person. Next, I’ll go to the center and introduce myself. So far everyone has been nice and easy to work with. Then, I’ll just start collecting shoes—promoting the collection on social media and through all of Oakwood’s channels. The last donation to the Ritchie Valens Center included mostly Oakwood donations. My mom’s clients and work friends gave some money donations, as well, and we used the money to go to Big Five and purchase brand new shoes to add to the collection.

Can you share the details of your latest contribution to the Ritchie Valens Center?

It took place on Saturday, January 6 and we were able to donate a little over sixty pairs of shoes in one day. Each kid would come in and tell us their size and shoe preference. It was the start of their winter league, so a lot of the kids picked out their shoes, laced them up, and started practicing right away. It was so heartwarming and brought a smile to my face. That was my hope all along—to see how happy the kids were on the court with their new shoes.

Steve Smith and I are also planning to start a free clinic for the kids at the Ritchie Valens Recreation Center, along with a few of my high school basketball teammates. It will be great for all of the kids to have their new shoes before they start the clinic.

Could you share insights into the Spirit Night collection? 

Spirit Night is such a big event at Oakwood. The community comes together from both campuses and it’s just a great opportunity to collect shoes. We have a donation bin in front of the gym where parents and kids who bring shoes can go drop off and then head over to watch the game. There were some missing sizes during our last donation, so the plan is to donate to the Ritchie Valens Recreation Center again to make sure everyone gets a pair of shoes.

What is your plan for Shoes to Use after you graduate from Oakwood?

With college and basketball, I am going to be very busy, but I love what I’m doing and I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I can. Part of my long-term goal is to pass it down to Oakwood so that the younger grades can continue this tradition. I plan to always stay involved with it, though. I hope that people understand just how much these shoes mean to the kids. Seeing those smiles and giving back to the community makes my day. That’s the goal of this for me— just to see those happy kids.