Coaches’ challenge each other off the court for charity

Melissa Stamp
Contributing Writer

Coach Shaka Smart continues to make an impact in the community as he joins college basketball coaches selected from schools across the country competing to raise money and awareness for a charity of their choice.

The contest began Jan. 5 and fans have 10 weeks to vote for their favorite coach or charity. The coaches receiving the most votes at the end of each voting period move on to compete for more money. There are 4 total rounds of voting, each with a different sum of money at stake. All coaches will win at least $1,000 for their chosen charity and the first place winner will be awarded $100,000.

ESPN and Infiniti, partners of the NCAA and National Association of Basketball Coaches, are sponsoring the contest for its third year.

Smart is supporting the FRIENDS Association for Children founded in 1871 by Lucy Goode Brooks. Inspired by the loss of one of her own children to the slave trade, Goode Brooks started a home for orphaned and abandoned black children with help from the Quaker Society of Friends.

“I am very honored that Coach Smart chose FRIENDS Association for Children to partner with in the Coaches Challenge,” said J. David Young, executive director of the FRIENDS Association. “Surprisingly, I constantly meet native Richmonders that haven’t heard of us and they both have been actively involved in helping us get exposure throughout the community.”

Today, the organization remains active by providing children — from infants to teenagers — with development programs including music lessons and health education. FRIENDS operates in two locations, Church Hill and Jackson Ward, and serves approximately 1,000 children.

Smart and his wife, Maya, have supported FRIENDS in the past by visiting the centers with the basketball team and interacting with the children.  Over the last few years they have made appearances at FRIENDS events such as summer basketball camps and a tree lighting ceremony at the Jefferson Hotel.

The Smart family has also made an effort to recruit volunteers and raise funds, through projects like the RVA T-shirt campaign that raised more than $30,000 for FRIENDS.

Young says the funds raised through this coaches’ challenge will be invested in core developmental programs as well as helping FRIENDS to replace their vehicle fleets in order to continue providing transportation for working families.

The VCU community has shown great support for Coach Smart, who has been consistently ranked in the top 10 during the first voting period.  He is currently ranked fifth, behind coaches from University of Virginia, Wichita, Purdue and Iowa State.

Maya Smart and several VCU basketball fan accounts have been promoting the contest on Twitter over the last few weeks with the hashtag, #VoteShaka.  Posters can also be found on campus promoting the contest and providing information about how and where to vote.

College basketball fans and all members of the community are encouraged to make an account on the ESPN website and vote once per day for their favorite coach. Voting for round one will end Jan. 25 and an official winner will be announced March 16.

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