Anyone watching American play Colgate on Saturday caught an odd sight: Eagles Coach Jeff Jones pacing the sidelines barefoot. No, Jones did not forget to pack his shoes and socks for the team’s trip to Hamilton, N.Y. He was joining 300 youth, high school and college coaches who went shoeless for a game to raise awareness of Samaritan’s Feet, an organization that collects shoes for needy children around the world.
“The least I could do to try to alert people to the good work that Samaritan’s Feet is doing,” Jones said. “It worked out well. Our game was on [Mid-Atlantic Sports Network], to get a little bit more exposure. They had requested that coaches do this on this particularly weekend given that [Monday] is Martin Luther King Day.”
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Coach Ron Hunter first brought attention to Samaritan’s Feet last season when he coached a game shoeless. At the time, he was the only coach to go barefoot.
“Ron and I serve on the National Basketball Coaches Association board of directors together,” Jones said. “At our last board meeting over the summer, following his visit to Peru, he talked about his experience. He was very emotionally about it. Basically, he said that the experience changed his life.”
Hunter’s presentation at that meeting really resonated with Jones. Later, he met J Rollins, a Samaritan’s Feet board member who coordinates the group’s Northeast region office. Rollins lives down the street from American and his daughter attends the school.
“She is friends with several of our players and unbeknownst to me our guys on their own donated some of their shoes,” Jones said.
Going barefoot in January in cold, snowy New York – even if it is inside a gym – is no easy feat, but Jones said it didn’t bother him.
“It wasn’t nearly as cold as I expected,” Jones said. “My assistants and the managers looked out for me. I was appreciative. They brought a mat so at least it was kind of soft.”
Unfortunately, Jones wasn’t able to spend all his time walking on the mat. To get to and from the locker room he traversed the icy, wet, cold hallways.
“It got some strange looks from people who couldn’t quite figure out what it was I was doing, including the officials,” Jones said. “They’re like, ‘What’s going on?’”
The discomfort was minor, though, and Jones said he would be willing to continue to shed his shoes for charity. He already received word from Rollins that there were donations of shoes and dollars from people who watched the game on television.
“If coaching barefoot became an annual thing, I certainly would be in favor if we can use our platform to promote what is a great cause,” Jones said.
January 19, 2009; 3:21 PM ET
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