Stacy McDaniel bought basketball shoes for one of her boys in June.
“When he went to his end-of-summer basketball tournament,” she said, “he had outgrown 'em.”
She has three active children, and that means she has lots of athletic equipment that they have outgrown.
She knows she isn't alone.
She knows, too, that there are lots of kids in Oklahoma City who don't have the shoes or the pants or the gloves that they need to play sports.
McDaniel decided to do something about both problems. Her solution has been more successful than even she imagined. With Oklahoma Cleats for Kids about to celebrate its one-year anniversary, her story will make you look differently at those used shoes sitting in your closet.
Stacy and her husband, Mark, regularly take their children, Cole, Josh and Megan, to volunteer at the Pilot Recreation Center just west of downtown. Last fall, they struck up a conversation with Lenora Ware, the director, about whether she saw kids who wanted to play sports but couldn't because they lacked the most basic equipment.
Ware told them a story about a single mother of five. The woman had scraped together enough money to pay the fees for the kids to play in a youth basketball league.
The kids, though, had no shoes.
Ware went looking.
“I found these shoes for you,” she told the mom. “They're a little less than $25, but they've got to have shoes to play.”
“I can't buy them,” the mom said. “It's the difference between paying my electric bill and buying groceries.”
The kids didn't play.
“The next week,” McDaniel said, “we started working on this.”
What grew out of that day at the Pilot Center was Oklahoma Cleats for Kids. Its mission was to collect new and used sports equipment, then distribute it to kids in need around Oklahoma City.
“Nobody was helping to get these local kids anything,” she said. “We've got kids right here in our backyard that do not have shoes.”
The first event Cleats for Kids was involved with was a Police Athletic League soccer camp. While McDaniel was handing out soccer shoes to some of the 300-plus kids, she noticed a little boy who was crying. He wasn't registered because he didn't have any soccer shoes.
She approached the boy's mom.
“Even if he's not playing,” she asked the mom, “would he take a pair of shoes?”
A few minutes later, the boy had on his new shoes.
“He put on the shoes and ran around — I watched my clock — for 15 minutes without stopping,” McDaniel said.
He was laughing and hugging and smiling.
Then, he approached Stacy.
“Can I keep these?” he asked.
McDaniel says that is a question she hears again and again. Can I keep these? The kids just can't fathom that they can keep their new stuff, that they can take it home, that it is theirs.
Who knows where that excitement could lead?
Maybe it gets the kids out of the house and active. Maybe it inspires them to try a new sport or join a league. Maybe it allows them to see all the benefits of sports, the self-esteem, the teamwork, the life lessons.
“One basketball season may change their whole entire life,” McDaniel said.
That may sound pollyannaish, but there are examples everywhere of people whose lives were changed by sport.
Take the 8-year-old boy from a single-parent family who discovered basketball at a rec center near his home. The court there became a sanctuary, a place to be safe, a place to be nurtured.
The boy became one of the greatest players on the planet — Kevin Durant.
“Not everybody's going to be a professional athlete,” McDaniel said, “and that's not really the goal.”
The goal is to give kids a chance to play.
Cleats for Kids is definitely achieving that goal. In less than a year, it has distributed more than 2,000 pairs of shoes and pieces of equipment to kids in Oklahoma City.
Some of the shoes and equipment came from donation drives at local schools. Cleats for Kids provides the bins — even offering to drop them off and pick them up — and students at the school serve as captains for the drive.
Some came from teams, such as a baseball squad that replaced its pants or a basketball squad that got new uniforms.
Some came from folks leaving them inside the giant shoe-shaped drop box outside the office/storage space/distribution center on NW 48th Street just east of Classen Boulevard.
Whatever she's gotten however she's gotten it, McDaniel has found a new home for it.
What started as a couple-days-a-week job — McDaniel stepped away from her law career a few years ago to spend more time with her kids — is now a full-time job.
“I promise you, the light that comes on when these kids get a pair of shoes, it is enough to keep you going,” she said. “If you could see them ... I swear you'd give every single pair of shoes you ever had to these kids.”
Stacy McDaniel is standing on the fence, trying to give needy kids a hand and help them over.
But she can't do it alone.
“Give your shoes a second life,” she said. “Let us give 'em to kids that need 'em.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
OKLAHOMA CLEATS FOR KIDS
What: Collection event for the Oklahoma City-based nonprofit, which distributes donated athletic equipment to kids in need. The first 100 donations will receive a free T-shirt. Rumble the Bison will also make an appearance.
When: 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday
Where: Downtown Community Basketball Court, Reno and Hudson
Oklahoma Cleats for Kids donations can be made any time at 1237 NW 48th Street. For more information, contact Stacy McDaniel at (405) 239-0723 or firstname.lastname@example.org.