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Back to school

I’ve talked a lot over the past two years about Hoops For Heroes being a collective thank you to Veterans and service men and women. At its core, that’s what I’ve always hoped it would become.

For the last week, more than any other week, that’s exactly what it was. And then some.

We were invited to attend a Veterans Day assembly at Andover Elementary Middle School last Wednesday, where I spoke about HFH and was otherwise blown away at the proceedings. Every single student got involved. They sang. They read essays and poetry. They led the Pledge of Allegiance. They hosted a “Veterans Cafe.” They got a motivational pick-me-up from their old pal, Naval Officer Charlie Giles from New London, who instructed: “Don’t wait to be asked to help. Just help.” Best of all, they did it all in front of the posted colors and more than 30 local Veterans.

I participated by saying a few words about my project and then making a rather clumsy 100 foul shots with the perfectly able hands of Reilly Walsh, Ben Yusko, Elizabeth LaBrie and Alyssa Smith, and after the festivities I stuck around with their fellow students, Adrian Bolte, Logan Marcus, Keith Davis, Riley Anderson, Brandon Jackson, Bill Leber and Max Barrett, to make the last of our 1,000 for the day.

On Thursday, it was off to Kennebunk, Maine, where a good friend from high school, Erin (Crowley) Neale, is the Gifted and Talented teacher (of which she is both) at Sea Road School, and let me just say this: Wow. The fourth- and fifth-graders there were ready. It was not a Veterans Day assembly, per se, but it was all about gratitude. For the prior few weeks, they had been talking and learning about Hoops For Heroes, and they had a project of their own, “Helping Hoops For Heroes,” by which participating students picked their own talent and tried to raise a little money around it by soliciting donations from friends, family members and neighbors.

I arrived to a gym wrapped halfway around with artwork, and it was only after a little prompting that I realized that each piece of art was comprised of grids: colored-in squares, tiny squares — a million tiny, colored-in squares. Absolutely amazing.

So one group at a time, we talked about Veterans, we talked about respect, we talked about the daily reminder of service and sacrifice, and we talked about …

“THAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANK YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU!” … which is what they helped me to scream, at the top of our lungs, each time I pointed to the American flag. And let me just tell you, these were not large groups, but I’m pretty sure they came close to blowing the roof off the joint. As well they should have.

We shot some foul shots, too — a couple hundred made per group, then finished up to 1,000 sometime in the early afternoon.

Thanks to my buddy and sixth-grade teacher Tamy Anderson and her principal Tom Sica, Rundlett Middle School in Concord came next — on Friday, Nov. 4 — and just between us friends, let me admit to you that this was the stop that had caused me the most sleepless nights in the week before.

I mean, I remember what I was like in seventh and eighth grade, and it was not pretty. Get 400 12-year-old me’s into a gymnasium, and frankly, that’s not a gathering the 44-year-old me wants to be a part of.

But once again, I was wrong. They could not have possibly been more respectful.

The message at Rundlett Middle School, as part of their recently initiated PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) program, is P.R.I.D.E., an acronym for Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Discipline and Excellence. I was there to cheer them on for that endeavor, talk about my own thoughts on each of our “personal scoreboards” (were you a plus or a minus today?), tell them about Hoops For Heroes, and once again shoot a few foul shots.

They were loud when I prompted them to be loud (“THAAAAAAAAANK YOOOOOOOU!”), attentive when it was appropriate to be attentive, and clearly mindful of the Veterans-specific message I was there to deliver. Yet again, well over half the students raised their hands when I asked who had a Veteran or active soldier in the family.

I was a pretty lousy junior high kid. These kids were the opposite of the junior high me. On the way out, I went to Mrs. Anderson’s room to say thank you, and on the way there I went through a hallway full of sixth-graders. I think I hugged just about every one of them.

Finally, on Monday, it was time to visit my pal Dustin Rayno, who’s been filling out a million-square grid of his own for the past two years, at the school of my mom — Sutton Central — as part of its annual Veterans Day assembly.

Here was the deal at the SCS event: I followed the kids … and there was no following those kids.

As I told them, if I delivered my message 1,000 times, it would never be as poignant as theirs.

In the middle of the all-purpose room, in the middle of these students, rested a small table, set for one, symbolizing the fact that members of our armed forces are missing.

And then, the students began to move, as Nicole Densmore, the music teacher and producer of the event, orchestrated and narrated.

A white tablecloth, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to serve. A single red rose, signifying the blood they may have shed in sacrifice, and to remind us of the family and friends of our missing comrades, who keep faith, while awaiting their return. A red ribbon on the vase, representing the red ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands who wish for their happy return. A slice of lemon on the plate, reminding us of the bitterness of longing for the soldier. Salt, sprinkled on the plate, reminding us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait. An inverted glass, as they cannot toast with us. A candle, representing the light of hope. And the American Flag, reminding us of their service.

Local Veterans sat and watched. It was a beautiful thing.

I said my piece. The kids and I screamed “THAAAAAAAAAANK YOOOOOOOU!”  I suggested that they practice saying those words, in honor of Veterans, each and every day … just not so loudly.

It was another darned cool day.

You know, over the past two years, the HFH message has been delivered in a number of ways, with the primary vehicle for distribution being electronics. Thank goodness for Facebook and its cousins, right? As we all know, there’s no better way, today, to get communications quantity than the never-ending e-stream.

If I want quality, though, I’ll unplug for a minute. I’ll shake the hand of a Veteran in Andover and tell him thank you where he can hear it. I’ll high-five a bunch of kids in Kennebunk, and hug a hallway full of sixth-graders in Concord. I’ll borrow that red colored pencil and help Dustin Rayno fill in a few of those little squares.

I’ve always hoped this project would be about gratitude, and I believe it has held up in that way, which is good. When that gratitude comes in the form of a genuine human connection, all the better.

By that scoreboard, this past week was as better as better gets.

For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.


 
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Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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November 6: Chris and Katherine

Chris was in a good mood because his alma mater, Louisiana State University, had remained atop the college football world the night before by beating Alabama, 9-6 — on the road, no less.

Katherine was in a good mood because — well, look at her, she’s clearly a pretty happy person, AND because she was, at the time of our visit, one day removed from heading back to a world of warmth in West Palm Beach. Not that she doesn’t love visiting, of course, but c’mon … 13 inches of snow in October?

My point is that it was a happy day of shooting, made all the more happy by the fact that those beautiful Lorio kids were there to join us. That’s Reagan up there. She’s got a twin sister, Carly, who’s just as cute. Seriously. And their baby brother Brendan is in the same Carter’s commercial category. (That was a lot of unintended alliteration.)

So happily, we connected on 1,000 more foul shots, bringing the overall total to 996,007 down, 3,993 to go. And five days left to do it.

Smile!

For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.


 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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November 5: Beans and Jandrue

Ever seen Superman and Batman in the same room together? I haven’t. But now I’ve seen Bob Jandrue and Jim Bean in the same gymnasium, which I have to consider to be the Hoops For Heroes equivalent.

Two rebounding forces of nature, are they: Bob for his assistance-persistence despite the obvious geographical challenge posed by living a couple hours away; Jim for his dogged pursuit of 50,000 assists in this project … a number which has now climbed to 52,000.

So there we were, along with a rebounding machine in his own right, Jim’s son Seth (42,000-ish?) … firing away toward 2,000 more on Saturday afternoon. When Bob’s former student Krista Rand showed up toward the end to lend her skills, the day was made complete.

Thanks for allowing those worlds to collide, men. We’re under the 5,000 mark to go … 995,007 down, 4,993 left, and six days to do it.

For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.


 
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Posted by on November 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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October 29: Fifty grand!

Do you get the photo? Five. Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh.

We were at about the midway point of this project — you know, 500,000 down, 500,000 to go — when Mr. James Bean said he planned to assist on 50,000 of these things.  Seemed earnest enough, but truly I can’t say that I believed him.  That’s, like, a full 10 percent of what we had left.

I’ll be damned.  On October 29, with Bailey Ellsworth, Seth and Jim Bean doing the legwork, we put 2,000 more in the books to reach 988,007 altogether … and a total of five-oh-oh-oh-oh for Big James.

While we’re talking about it, I suppose it’s no small feat that Seth Bean (who’ll drop a 3-pointer or two on you, by the way) has assisted on about 40,000 of his own.  Quite a father-son tandem we’ve got here, and they’ll be collecting a few more in Springfield a few days from now, too.

Huge thanks, Bean boys.

For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.


 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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October 25: Terri and Gerry Gill

Gerry Gill of neighboring Deerfield was in the house again, only this time each family added another generation to the festivities. Gerry’s mom jumped in to help with the rebounding chores, and Li’l No (a.k.a. Noah David Cummings) joined us at the ECS gym to get a little dribbling practice in.

It was a solid 1,000 made free throws, after which Gerry informed me that he remains an avid Power Rangers fan, and that whereas 20 months ago we had established that I would be referred to as “Wolf” and he would be “Gold,” there was to be a new nickname bestowed: Li’l No is now officially Wolf Jr.

Thanks, Gold (and Gold Sr.) … That’s now 983,007 down, 16,993 to go to 1 million made foul shots.

For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.


 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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October 23 with Neal and Ryan

It is my eyes, or is that picture way, way, way out of focus?

Neal and Ryan Burns, however, seem to never be unfocused, and it was with great pleasure that we came together about a week ago — for the first time since Valentine’s Day 2010 (see below) — for an 11th-hour shooting session.

Ryan, a fellow sixth-grader to Noah at Epsom Central School, is the kid who does a whole lot of everything — sports, music, drama, technology, Scouts are what comes to mind, although there’s more — and it was Ryan who was solely responsible way back when for the life-changing realization that there is an iPod auxiliary cord in the gym that would allow us to put music to these days of shooting. That’s called a Burns-inspired epiphany.

Ryan is also a kid who (and I may have said this before) always looks like he knows something that you don’t. And he probably does.

On this particular morning, the younger Burns was responsible for the exchanges, catching the passes from the older Burns and handing them over to me for what I would guess was about 1,100 shots — exactly 1,000 of which went through: 981,007 down, 18,993 to go to 1 million made foul shots.

Always a pleasure, Neal and Ryan. Thanks again.

For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.


 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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October 21 at NHTI

Good thing there are only a couple weeks left in this project, because given enough time, I’m certain that I would show up for one of these shooting gigs having forgotten at least one of my feet. In that context, it’s really no big deal that I’ve developed a recent habit of merely forgetting my sneakers.

It happened again on a recent trip to the Goldie Crocker Wellness Center at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, where my old pal and NHTI Coach Paul Hogan invited me to shoot with his team during a afternoon practice on October 21. So rather than pathetically ask if anyone had a pair of shoes I could wear, I simply strutted out to the foul line in a pair of socks, almost as if that’s just the routine … and nobody even looked twice.

This NHTI men’s basketball program, under Coach Hogan, has developed quite a national reputation in his 12 years at the school, including a United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division II National Championship in 2005. Keep in mind, this is a two-year school at which many players only stick around for one before moving along, so it’s no small task to develop continuity over a period of years. But Coach Hogan, who doubles as the athletic director, has done it.

His secret? Didn’t tell me.

What he did do, though, was permit his players to join me, despite my shoelessness. They came three at a time, four shifts, 250 made free throws per shift. In just about 40 minutes, we were through 1,000 more … and there were two new sweaty footprints on the Crocker Center gym floor.

Thanks Coach, and thanks to Sander Vanderveen (7-foot-2, by the way), Josh Morgan, Peralt Annulysse, Ben Hill, Ryan Sweeney, Tyler Yeaton, Brendan Norton, Satae Ayers, Patrick Lavin, Greg Lablond, Jackson Riel, Zach Stevens and Bobby Shatinsky. We’re at 979,007 down, 20,993 to go to 1 million made foul shots.

For more on Hoops For Heroes, with a goal of 1 million made foul shots and $1 million raised for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, visit www.hoopsforheroes.com or contact Dave Cummings at 603-554-7855.


 

 

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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