Barefoot Memorial

January 28, 2009 11:38:11 PM PST
Hundreds of kids in Africa are about to get new shoes, thanks to basketball fans in the Central Valley. Donations poured in as part of a tribute to a popular coach who collapsed during a game one year ago. Coaches all over the Valley did their jobs barefoot. It's part of the "Samaritan Feet" Operation, raising shoes for needy kids in Africa. But at Sunnyside High School, the effort was especially emotional for the Stahowski family.

The local effort honored their dad, Dean, who died after collapsing at the Sunnyside-San Joaquin Memorial game last year.

From a view from the top, the Sunnyside-San Joaquin Memorial game looked normal. But from down below, it was anything but. Coaches for both teams went barefoot, to honor Dean Stahowski the best way they knew how -- by giving back to kids.

The barefoot idea got the fans attention, and what they gave in return was shoes...One mother said she couldn't even afford shoes for her own son, but she bought a pair to donate to honor Coach Stahowski. "I think it's a great idea," said Molly Knuffke. "Anything that's beneficial to kids is wonderful. It's worth doing and it was very creative."

The donations piled up high, into the hundreds and the coach's son Chris, now an assistant coach at Memorial, said the generosity would have moved his dad.

"He'd probably cry," said Chris Stahowski.

"That's what he did, but he'd be overwhelmed. This is what he does. Helping kids and being around kids. It's what he does." "He's the kind of guy that would give the shirt off his back and he'd probably give the shoes off his feet too," said Memorial head coach Pat Geil.

Geil suggested the barefoot coaching idea around the Valley. He said he was happy to honor Stahowski, even if it wasn't exactly comfortable. "My feet already are kind of ugly," he said. "They're not very attractive and I can't wait to put some shoes back on."

"He's got some hairy toes, that's for sure," said Stahowski's son Macauley, who's a Memorial junior, and a starter on the basketball team.

The humor of barefoot coaches wasn't lost on Macauley. And even after missing a last second chance to tie the game, Macauley knew his dad would be proud of him, and of everybody in the gym Wednesday night. "This whole thing is undescribable basically," he said. "Like, words can't describe what I want to say."

But like coaches everywhere in the Valley, his teammates said it loud and clear: They did it for Dean. Coach Geil says the barefoot coaching day will become an annual event in the Valley.

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