Vols in Hoops for Hope
David Sexton said the tally is up $30,000. The 49 smiles at Farragut High School said it's much higher.
Hoops for Hope, a basketball fundraiser born from the big heart of Sexton's son, Trey, celebrated its five-year anniversary Saturday. As they do every year, the Tennessee men's and women's teams spent two hours playing alongside children and young adults with Down syndrome.
"You can't help but get goose bumps — I've got goose bumps, the players have goose bumps," said UT men's associate head coach Tracy Webster. "You see how much those kids are enjoying the experience. It's a great chance to treat others how you want to be treated."
Hoops for Hope began as Trey Sexton's charitable project for the Eagle Scouts. He was 12 years old when he attended a game at Thompson-Boling Arena and saw two teams of children with special needs play at halftime. Soon after, he approached the UT basketball office.
Former coaches Bruce Pearl and Pat Summitt both signed on and the event began in 2008 with proceeds — now up to $30,000 — going to the Down Syndrome Awareness Group of East Tennessee.
Upon the recent regime changes in both programs, Cuonzo Martin and Holly Warlick each agreed to keep the party going.
"To see the big smiles on their faces and making sure that they're having fun — that's what it's all about," Warlick said Saturday.
Nowadays, Trey Sexton is a freshman at BYU. His younger sister, Allie, a senior at Farragut, has been handed the torch. Overseeing the whole operation, David Sexton can only shake his head. That old Eagle Scout project has taken on a life of its own.
"We thought this would be a one-year deal, but the players loved it and the families loved it, so UT asked Trey to do it the next year," David Sexton said.
Tennessee sophomore Josh Richardson spent the morning dishing out assists and hugs. The Oklahoma native's family has been dealt the difficult burden of Down syndrome. Two first cousins have the condition.
Richardson remembers growing up with the responsibility of including them and the confusion of understanding their realities.
"You might not even know how much fun they're having and how much they appreciate it," he said. "Sometimes they can't really express it in words the way we can."
Saturday's 49 participants ranged from being highly functional to severely disabled.
The UT players lined up as each was introduced for Thompson-Boling Arena-style team introductions. Vols senior forward Jeronne Maymon, serving as the public address announcer, belted out the participants' names.
Then the Vols shared the court with their new teammates.
Those goose bumps that Webster mentioned — they danced on every made basket.
"There are so many little tender moments," David Sexton said. "It's just heartwarming what this means to these families."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn