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‘Hoops for Hope,’ UT players promised at FHS
Inaugural Down syndrome benefit Aug. 23 brainchild of Farragut High sophomore


In the eyes of a 14-year-old Farragut High School student, something quite special took place during halftime of a University of Tennessee men’s basketball game in 2007.

It was the inspiration for his Eagle Scout project — a project looking to inspire those with unique challenges.

And a meeting with Vols head coach Bruce Pearl was key.

“My dad and I were at a U-T basketball game in 2007, and at halftime some kids with Down syndrome came out and played some five-on-five … and I just looked at my dad and said to him, ‘Man, it just looks like they’re having so much fun,’ having a blast,” said Trey Sexton, now 15, an FHS sophomore. “They had 20,000 people cheering for them.”

The inaugural “Hoops for Hope” basketball gathering is the result of Trey’s inspiration — with a UT Volunteer flavor.

In conjunction with Knoxville Down Syndrome Awareness Group, Hoops for Hope would allow those afflicted with Down’s syndrome to play basketball while interacting with UT men’s basketball players, who are scheduled to serve as referees and other support assistants according to David Sexton, Trey’s father.

Hoops for Hope begins with ceremonies and games at 10 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 23, in Lynn E. Sexton Gymnasium at FHS.

“I just thought, ‘If I could do something like that for my Eagle project … to give more kids an opportunity like that, that would just be really cool,’” Trey said.

Games continue until about 12:30 p.m., when according to David Sexton, UT basketball players will sign autographs for “30 to 45 minutes.”

Participant registration begins at 9:30 a.m. Admirals boys basketball players also will assist in the event, said FHS boys head coach Donald Dodgen.

“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard … this is greater than any accomplishment he’ll ever think about in his life, doing something like this for Down syndrome kids,” Dodgen said. “This will be great for the community, plus, this will be great for Farragut High School.”

The process from inspiration to gameday took more than one year. “We went and talked to the [Knoxville] Down Syndrome Awareness Group,” Trey said of the meeting that included Kelly Brickey, executive director.

Next was the meeting with Pearl on May 21, 2007. “He just seemed like a great guy,” Trey said, adding that his request for a meeting with the popular Vol coach was met with a, “hey, sure” response.

Trey first met with Vol assistant Ken Johnson, Director of Basketball Operations, “Then coach Pearl came in and just said, ‘I love it, let’s do it.’

“Coach Pearl had the idea of, ‘Why don’t you do something that would make the legacy of this event last beyond the event itself?’” Trey added. “My idea was, why don’t we go to a couple of different businesses and ask them to make a donation, a sponsorship.”

Five businesses responded with $1,000 each.

“He dreamed big,” said David Sexton. “He didn’t look at the situation and say, ‘I don’t think that’s possible. Let’s try to make it happen.’

“I think Trey has learned a great lesson; when you give people a chance to help and make them aware of the need, they are more than happy to do it.”

From Trey’s fateful halftime inspiration, Brickey said, “His ambition is to work with these individuals with Down syndrome. To me that’s just outstanding, that he has taken this upon himself.

“And he’s done it all to raise awareness, to encourage other people to become involved with individuals with disabilities,” Brickey added. “And to promote typical activities, and just to encourage the thought that these individuals with Down syndrome, as with any type of disability, are so much more typical than they are different.

“I’m inspired by his enthusiasm for this project.”

Specifically speaking, how does this event help?

“Providing them a very typical opportunity that typical kids get to be involved with every day,” Brickey said. “A lot of these opportunities are not as readily available to individuals with Down syndrome.”

Sponsorship money raised by Hoops for Hope “goes into our scholarship fund,” Brickey said, “Money that goes to recreational activities, sports activities, going to camp, taking dance, taking gymnastics.”

David Sexton added that funding was much needed for the scholarship program, “So, when we found out about that, Trey said, ‘That’s what I want to do [concerning] what coach Pearl said, I want to raise money for that fund.’

“Some families have the money to pay for those [activities], but others don’t,” David added. “This scholarship fund was set up to assist those families and subsidize that.”

Brickey said Hoops for Hope is not just for young people with Down syndrome, but for all ages.

About UT men’s players participation, David Sexton said, “the majority of them will be there, there’s no question about that,” adding Pearl “wants to be there” if his calendar is clear.

Brickey added, “We’re very, very excited about that … the sports players are going to be a huge draw.”

Hoops for Hope an annual event? “Frankly, we’ve had such a positive reaction to this … I think there’s a chance it could be,” David said. “We need to see how many show up and support it, and how much interest there really is.”

Members of the UT Lady Vols basketball team “are also invited,” David said.

Trey’s Boy Scout Troop, Troop 14, is affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Farragut.

 

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