Whitman's Ferenz, Bridgeland to coach barefoot Saturday

Michelle Ferenz and Eric Bridgeland will benefit Samaritan's Feet as they coach against Willamette.

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WALLA WALLA — Whitman College basketball coaches Michelle Ferenz and Eric Bridgeland will lend a hand to a good cause this Saturday night by coaching in their bare feet during Northwest Conference games in Sherwood Center.

Leading by example and playing the part of good sports, Ferenz and Bridgeland are "stepping up" to support Samaritan’s Feet, a nonprofit organization that seeks to put shoes on 10 million impoverished people in the next 10 years.

Saturday’s games in Sherwood pit Whitman against Willamette University. The women play at 6 p.m. followed by the men at 8.

All gate receipts will be donated to Samaritan’s Feet, which estimates that 300 million people worldwide wake up each morning without a pair of shoes to protect their feet from disease and injury.

Admission to the games is $5 for adults, $3 for senior citizens and $1 for students.

Whitman students, faculty and staff are admitted at no charge to all Whitman athletic events, although donation boxes will be available at Saturday’s games for all fans who want to contribute to Samaritan’s Feet.

Whitman’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is organizing Saturday’s promotion. The committee, which Ferenz advises, has student-athlete representatives from each varisty team on campus.

While both Whitman coaches jumped at the chance to support a good cause, neither one had much choice (in a good-natured way). Ferenz wants to support her committee’s activities, and it was Bridgeland’s spouse, Brie, who first brought the Barefoot for Bare Feet program to the committee’s attention.

To add to the fun, says SAAC co-president Jennifer Keyes (a guard on the women’s basketball team), "we will be asking our students and fans, if they are willing, to take off their shoes while they are in the gym."

Those in the stands will also have an opportunity to simply and quickly donate $5 to Samaritan’s Feet without the hassle of credit cards, checks or cash. They can text the keyword ‘shoes’ to the number "85944." After receiving a confirmation text that they intend to donate $5 to Samaritan’s Feet, five dollars will be added to their next cell phone bill.

When they pay their cell phone bill in the normal fashion (which will include an additional $5 one-time donation to Samaritan’s Feet), their cell phone company will route the $5 donation directly to Samaritan’s Feet.

Each $5 donation will process, warehouse and transport one pair of new athletic shoes to a child in need.

Ron Hunter, the men’s coach at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, originated the concept of coaching a game in bare feet to raise awareness for Samaritan’s Feet.

Hunter coached his first bare-footed game in 2008 and thousands of coaches at all levels have since followed in his footsteps.

Hunter’s attention-grabbing concept, known now as Barefoot for Bare Feet, is embraced by the NCAA as well as the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Samaritan’s Feet has been collecting and distributing shoes for the world’s poor since 2003. The program is the brainchild of Manny Ohonme, who was given his first pair of shoes by a stranger when he was nine years old and living in Lagos, Nigeria.

Ohonme, who came to the United States to play basketball at the University of North Dakota, now lives in Charlotte, N.C., with wife Tracie and their four children.

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