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Free throw worth more than points

Hoops of Hope basketball event offers young people an opportunity to help orphaned children

Posted: March 9, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 9, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Special Olympics Coach "Spike," left, shoots free throws during the one-on-one challenge with Special Olympics athlete Lindsay Kautiainen during last year's event.

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A free throw in a typical game of basketball is worth only one point, but a free throw at the second annual Santa Clarita/Tri-Valley Special Olympics and Hoops of Hope event can save a child’s life.

The event, scheduled for March 30, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., is a product of inspiration by two men who wanted to use their talent in basketball as a way to help others.

A 9-year-old’s dream

Hoops of Hope was started in 2004 by then-9-year-old Austin Gutwein. Gutwein saw a video explaining the thousands of children orphaned in Africa each year by parents who lost their lives to HIV/AIDS. After seeing the story, he felt God calling him to help.

He decided to use his gift of basketball to make a difference. He began by shooting 2,057 free throws, the number of children who would be orphaned in one day. His family and friends sponsored him and he raised $3,000.

Over the next nine years the organization grew, as other people began to participate. Today, Hoops of Hope is the largest free-throw marathon in the world with more than 40,000 people participating each year.

Scott Norton, Santa Clarita resident and 14-year basketball coach for SCV Special Olympics, heard about Hoops of Hope and knew it would be a great event to get his Special Olympic athletes to participate in and help “pay it forward.”

Norton, who also sits on the Regional Leadership Committee for the Special Olympics, approached Hoops of Hope last year about holding a joint free throw marathon event in Santa Clarita to benefit both the local Special Olympics and Hoops of Hope for orphans in Africa.

After both organizations agreed to the idea, the event became and annual event. Youth from junior and senior high schools around the SCV participate. The event will feature special guests, a silent auction and an In-n-Out food truck. A portion of the proceeds from the food will be donated to the organizations. Norton encourages the entire community to come to the event and participate or watch and cheer on the athletes.

“The kids get really excited about it and it helps break down the stereotypes related to intellectual disability, while helping kids locally and globally,” he said.

Local involvement

Real Life Church began planning to host its own Hoops of Hope event when they realized an event was already being held in Santa Clarita. They approached the SCV/Tri-Valley Special Olympics and opted to sponsor the upcoming March 30 event instead of holding one.

“We saw this as a great opportunity to partner with the SCV Special Olympics, reach across the world to Africa and help here in the community,” said Steve Meyers, Real Life Church’s Student Ministry Pastor.

The church immediately planned a kickoff rally which was held February 24 to help garner excitement for the upcoming event and get more young people involved. The rally featured speakers Austin Gutwein and Scott Norton to help inspire the crowd.

“Our heart is to reach out to the community and share God’s love with as many people as possible,” Meyers said. “We wanted to introduce the event to the community, challenge [our youth] and give them an opportunity to know they matter and have something to offer to help make a difference.”

To participate in the event, volunteer or donate visit or call the SCV Special Olympics at 661-253-2121. The event will be held March 30 at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex at 20870 Centre Pointe Parkway, elementary children up to sixth grade can participate from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. junior high and high school athletes participate from 10 p.m. to 4 p.m.


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