How We Started …
Basketball Smiles was birthed in the spring of 1999 when Coach Sam Nichols, head women’s basketball coach at McMurry University, and Coach Patty Johnson from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas met at the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Convention in San Jose, California. A mutual love of basketball and children led to the first Basketball Smiles camps in June 1999.
The vision of Basketball Smiles is to conduct free basketball camps for disadvantaged boys and girls of all ages, and offer, along with basketball instruction, a Life Skills Program emphasizing citizenship, education, and self-discipline. The initial camp had only 75-80 boys and girls in attendance and Coach Nichols was their only coach. But it was obvious that this vision was on the right track.
After that first year, Coach Nichols developed the motto of Basketball Smiles: “We bring a week of smiles and hope through basketball.” But the truth is, the week of smiles brings a lifetime of change to these children.
Where We Are Now …
Basketball Smiles has grown to serve more than 300 children annually. Since 1997, more than 10,000 children have been coached, mentored and encouraged through Basketball Smiles.
These basketball camps are free and open to children of all ages. The camps are held on outdoor courts in neighborhood areas. These neighborhood areas are very poor and many of these children would not be able to attend camp if a fee were charged.
In addition to basketball instruction, the camps present a Life Skills Program that emphasizes citizenship, education, and self-discipline. In 2011, as part of the Academic Tutorial and Leadership Program, Basketball Smiles began to provide academic materials to teachers and administrators of schools in these disadvantaged neighborhoods to facilitate specific academic tutorial programs to assist students.
In 2014, as part of the Basketball Smiles emphasis on academic excellence, Basketball Smiles began to provide school backpacks for every camper in an effort to encourage better homework efficiency.
Coach Patty Johnson from H.O. Nash Jr. High School continues to be the Bahamian Coordinator for Basketball Smiles. Coach Johnson not only coordinates the basketball camps but also works with Bahamian school officials to facilitate in-service training for elementary and high school physical education teachers that Coach Nichols and his staff conduct. Coach Nichols regularly speaks at several school assemblies during his trips.
During camp, each camper is fed a nutritious meal daily and ice and water is provided to keep them hydrated during the tropical heat.
Basketball Smiles averages 12 to 14 coaches from the U.S. who volunteer their time and raise their own expenses to serve on the staff during camp, which may very well be the largest free basketball camp in the entire Caribbean!