By Greg Bach
Every year on Father’s Day Michael “Skeet” Horton’s phone blows up.
He’s bombarded with calls, texts and emails.
And he cherishes every single one of them.
That's because he's hearing from those whose lives he has impacted through the years - and there are a lot of successful young men and women grateful for his efforts.
Horton is the founder of the Chicago-based Hoop ‘Til It Hurts! Foundation, who for more than three decades has been coaching, mentoring and teaching, using the sport of basketball to prepare kids for leading happy and successful lives.
“I want kids to understand that what they are going through now in their current circumstances is not their final outcome in life,” Horton says. “But there are some things you have to do along the way to make sure that this is not your final outcome.”
THE POWER OF GIVING
Horton grew up in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, where drugs and gangs lurked, and bad decisions ruined lives.
But he was one of the lucky ones. He discovered basketball and embraced the positive influences of those adults who were coaching teams and connecting with kids.
“By playing basketball I had a chance to be around adults who were mentors and role models,” he says. “They went to work every day and served their communities, and those things appealed to me. I saw how it was all attached to playing sports, so that was the carrot on the stick that kept me around to do other positive things.”
It also sparked the desire to want to do his part by giving back and steering young lives in the right direction.
“I saw the way my coaches impacted the community,” Horton says. “And I realized that I wanted to give back. So, I think it started way back then and progressed over the years.”
The Hoop ‘Til It Hurts Foundation was built upon the belief that every child deserves the opportunity to benefit from competing in basketball.
The more time kids devote to playing, and learning valuable life skills in the process, the less likely their lives will take those dangerous and destructive detours.
“I want kids to have an opportunity to stay in the game,” Horton says. “Because if they’re not in the game they’re going to find alternatives and a lot of times those are negative.”
The foundation has had far-reaching impact on teens, children and youth teams in countless ways, both in Chicago and nationally: it provides grants for private academic tutors, league and travel fees, and apparel; it donates uniforms to teams; and it conducts free basketball clinics that have featured former NBA players like Mark Aguirre, Cliff Levingston and Stephen Bardo.
This past Father’s Day one of the text messages Horton received came from a teen headed off to college.
And it’s one of too many messages to count that shows what Horton is doing is making life-changing differences for youth every day.
“Her text message said, ‘Happy Father’s Day, you’ve been a great dad,’” Horton shares. “After I responded by thanking her, her reply gave me a lump in my throat. She texted: I forgot you have your own biological child. I was thinking of myself when I said that because you have made such an impact on me with all your support and guidance.”
Now that’s the power of sports.
And it’s being delivered through basketball by a man who has spent his life helping others.
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