CMC Magazine is Claremont McKenna College's publication for alumni, parents, current students, donors, and the greater higher education community.
Issue link: http://magazine.cmc.edu/i/104159
Hoop Dreams By Nick Owchar '90 Can you bring about social change through sports? Aron Khurana '09 thinks you can. So does his former high school basketball coach, Darren Barndt. Together they started 847 Hoops, a summer camp program directed at building bonds and raising aspirations among needy young people in the Chicago area. Started in 2011, 847 Hoops teaches basketball to seventh- and eighthgraders in a free, five-session camp that most of these youngsters couldn't attend if their families had to pay. But the objective is far more than just delivering free, first-rate coaching to the kids: Khurana, Brandt, and the rest of this young organization want to create a deeply collaborative, positive learning experience that will have a tangible effect on the surrounding community. "I learned about a group that helped neighborhoods in Boston in a class taught by (professor) Jay Conger," recalls Khurana, who today works as a sales associate in the Chicago office of Credit-Suisse AG. "They managed to reduce violence in the city by giving city youth access to gyms and social functions." That lesson, and what the Lake Forest, Ill., native saw in the Chicago area, fired his enthusiasm for doing the same thing. Giving back, he knew, doesn't have to wait until one's older and more established. It can happen at any time. In fact, it can happen now. Barndt, who coached Khurana on the Lake Forest High School basketball team before he graduated in 2005, has worked with many remarkable young people during his 12 years as a coach at the school. Khurana, however, left an especially deep impression. "He was talented and competitive enough to find success on the basketball court, but what stood out to me was his unbelievably strong leadership skills," Barndt recalls. After he graduated from high school, Khurana stayed in touch with Barndt. When Khurana returned to the Chicago office for Credit-Suisse, he told Barndt that he wanted to start a project related to basketball that would give back to their community. Barndt was delighted to hear this news. "Ironically, I had hoped to start something similar to Aron's idea," he says. "So, we kind of compiled our ideas and hashed out a mission statement." For Khurana, a 6'3 athlete who played guard and forward on the CMS men's basketball team, the answer was obvious. Along with Khurana and Barndt, 847 Hoops' staff of volunteers and supporters counts several more CMC alumni in its ranks. These include Richard Voit '81, Jay Tremblay '83, Andy Doyle '09, Tejas Gala '09, Jordan Nottke '10, and Carlos Rivas '12. "I wasn't really good at working in a soup kitchen," he explained. "I wanted to find something that I would be particularly good at and also something I would really enjoy. Working with kids and sports was a perfect blend for me." For Nottke, 847 Hoops isn't a summer-only program. It requires yearround commitment to scout locations, recruit volunteers, raise funds, and reach out to the local communities. That is why Khurana & Company also hope to reach out to CMC's alumni network for more help. What does the number 847 mean? Does it indicate the number of hoops and backboards used by the program? Is it tiring work? Yes. But is it worth it? Absolutely, Nottke says. He came to share the vision of Khurana and Barndt after witnessing an incredible moment of connection between four campers. The challenge, though, is finding the way that's best for each person. No: The number refers to the area code that encompasses many of the towns in the Chicago area that the program serves today. So far, two camp locations have been used—at the Waukegan Park District's Field House Sport & Fitness Center and the Humboldt Park Field House. Next summer's goal is to add a third camp in Englewood, which Khurana says is a troubled neighborhood affected by gang violence. The youth—referred to as "campers"—come from a diverse number of communities, including Lake Forest, Zion, Waukegan, Lake Bluff, North Chicago, Gurnee, and Grayslake. Last summer, 44 kids participated in the program's inaugural year; this past summer, that number swelled to 108. winter 2013 The four boys had been grouped together and charged with naming their team. That task, Nottke said, turned into an argument as each boy insisted on a name tied to his particular community. Eventually, this impasse wore down the boys' egos, Nottke said, and something amazing happened. "Watching these four campers compromise and come up with a solution that everyone accepted was one of the most fascinating and productive human experiences I've ever witnessed," he said. "That was the moment when I realized how powerful 847 Hoops could be, especially in a city that is so culturally fragmented." 59