Lace ‘Em Up 2021

Group of boys, some wearing shower shoes.
Boys and girls come to Basketball Smiles camp wearing the only shoes they have.

Some children have never had a new pair of shoes. They come to camp to play on steaming asphalt with only flipflops, house shoes, shoes that are sizes too small or old shoes that are duct-taped together.

The asphalt basketball court simmered in the steamy tropical sun, but even the 104-degree temperature didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the skinny 6th grader who flopped around the court in his shower slides, trying his best to do the drills and maybe win a trophy at the end of our week-long Basketball Smiles camp.

Nothing makes Coach Sam Nichols’ throat tighten faster than a kid with absolutely nothing doing his best to achieve, going on nothing but hope.

When the temperature is 102, asphalt registers from 167 degrees. Human skin destruction occurs in just 60 seconds at 162 degrees. With the temperature at 104, asphalt would sizzle the skin and Coach Sam could see it coming.

Sticky asphalt plus shower slides plus enthusiastic basketball would end in a tumble and a bleeding knee or elbow or both on the steaming blacktop. It was just a matter of time. The kid’s name was Robert. He was a good kid whose family had nothing. He was wearing his best pair of shoes, the only shoes he had.

Coach Sam Nichols with little boy in flipflops
Some boys and girls have never had a new pair of shoes.
Small child with no shoes and girl with shower slides
Some children share shoes. Others have none to share.

Robert had lived his whole life in one of the most impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods in Nassau. This was his first Basketball Smiles camp.

Coach Sam had no choice but to give Robert a pair of real basketball shoes. His eyes lit with joy! Shoes that tied and didn’t come off when he suddenly turned. He had never had a pair of real shoes in his life.

What comfort! What luxury! What unbelievable happiness!

Robert was exuberant with delight, but Coach Sam was happier still.

The shoes were too big, but that was an advantage. They might last longer that way.

When the outside begins to crumble apart, the kids who come to Basketball Smiles camp — the ones who have shoes — hold them together with duct tape. But it would be better if they didn’t have to keep their toes scrunched to wear them, so it was good that Robert’s were big.

Real shoes for our kids

Last year Sandy Nichols, board member and treasurer of Basketball Smiles and Sam’s wife, watched another child — one of many — slipping and sliding around the hot court in shower slides. Over the years she regularly had seen two children share shoes, one playing barefoot on the scorching asphalt while the other wore the shoes and then they would switch, making the most of the one pair of shoes they had between them.

But the 2019 camp was the breaking point. With the determination of a mother, Sandy made up her mind that was the last camp where boys and girls would have to do without the shoes they needed to play. She decided Basketball Smiles would provide those shoes — real shoes — for every child attending camp.

The kind of shoes needed

To fulfill that mandate, Basketball Smiles needs at least 300 pair of athletic shoes to outfit all the children.

The shoes need to be new so the kids can have the immense satisfaction of owning something never worn by anybody before, maybe for the first time in their lives. New athletic shoes will impart valuable self-esteem, as well as prevent injuries.

They need to be top-quality so the kids can wear them a long time.

You can experience the fulfillment of giving a boy or girl their first pair of shoes. Donate to our Lace ‘Em Up Initiative, designating your gift to that fund.

We will get the best deal on the shoes that we can so your gift will be maximized. And when we come back from camp, we’ll post pictures so you can see for yourself the joy you gave those children.

There’s no better felling than knowing you did something that means so much.

Sandy Nichols and Coach Patty Johnson
Sandy Nichols and Coach Patty Johnson
Boys doing drills
Coach Sam Nichols with boy wearing medal