Archdeacon: With footwear and some soap, Wright State wins big again

5:40 p.m Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 Sports

During the basketball season, here’s one thing you’d never expect 6-foot-9, 275-pound Loudon Love to say to the person matched up next to him:

“Tell me if I’m being too rough here now, OK?”

Yet that’s exactly what the Wright State big man said some 13 hours after he had finished roughing up Detroit Mercy for 15 points, five rebounds, two steals and three personal fouls in the Raiders’ 87-55 victory Friday night at the Nutter Center.

Now he found himself face to face with 5-foot-1, 102-pound Marilyn Rockhold, who had approached him leaning on a four-pronged cane and then worked herself down into a chair.

The 62-year-old West Dayton woman removed her worn shoes and socks and extended one bare foot toward him and soon the other.

Love took each separately in his huge hands, lowered it to the tub of warm, soapy water on the floor between them and gently washed it.

That’s when point guard Cole Gentry, who had had 12 points against Detroit and four assists, one that set up a Love layup in the first half, dished off again to the Raiders center.

This time Gentry handed him a brand new pair of blue-and-white running shoes and some new socks for Marilyn.

As Love slipped them on her feet, she asked him about his basketball, his schooling and his life.

“I went to Nettie Lee Roth,” she would say later. “I worked with mentally-challenged and foster children and did domestic house cleaning.”

After admiring her new footwear, she stood and got a photo taken with the towering Love.

“Thank you so much,” he told her.

And completing the double team, Gentry added: “I’ll walk you out.”

Friday night a crowd of 7,453 — largest of the season — cheered the Raiders and left the Nutter Center happy over a wondrous season that now includes a 15-6 record and a 7-1 mark in the Horizon League.

No one, though, beamed about the Raiders any more than Marilyn did Saturday as she held onto her cane and made her way out of the Life Enrichment Center on Findlay Street in East Dayton.

Raiders coach Scott Nagy took in that interaction and many more like it with the rest of his players and then admitted:

“This is better for our guys than Friday night was. When basketball is over, there won’t be 7,000 people cheering them on.

“We’re trying to teach these guys to engage with people. To initiate, because most of their college career everybody is always initiating with them and making a fuss over them. We want to teach them to serve other people rather than being served all the time.

“And it’s good for them to make these people feel important because really they are just as important as they are. Sometimes you get this inflated view of yourself because of what you do, and truthfully you really aren’t any more special than anyone else.”

Through Nagy, the entire WSU basketball team was involved in Saturday’s shoe giveaway that was orchestrated by Samaritan’s Feet, a ministry-based, non-profit organization out of Charlotte, North Carolina that helps people worldwide.

Since 2003, Samaritan’s Feet — which has become a favorite charity of some 3,000 college, high school and AAU coaches and especially Nagy — has given away 8 million pairs of shoes in over 75 nations and 325 American cities.

Nagy first got involved after he and his wife Jamie adopted their daughter, Naika, from an orphanage in Haiti a dozen years ago.

He wanted to give back to his daughter’s homeland and that’s when he was introduced to Samaritan’s Feet by Ron Hunter, his friend and former Summit League coaching rival at IUPUI, who grew up in Dayton and was schooled at Chaminade Juliennne and Miami University.

Hunter, now the Georgia State coach, was the pioneer of helping people get new shoes and had publicized his ventures by coaching games barefoot.

Nagy has done the same since 2009 and he also took his team at South Dakota State — where he coached for 21 years before taking over WSU last season — to Haiti. He hopes to do the same with the Raiders this August.

In recent years he’s also gone on charitable trips to Zimbabwe and Burundi in Africa.

In 2012 Samaritan’s Feet named him its coach of the year.

Friday night, Nagy coached against the Titans in bare feet.

Then Saturday he brought his team to East Dayton, just as he did last season.

“He absolutely gets it,” said Denise Blomberg, a regional director of Samaritan’s Feet from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

She was at the Life Enrichment Center on and marveled at the efforts of the WSU team.

“So many of the people we’re seeing today are down on their luck and some are possibly homeless,” she said. “These guys are here to give them love and inspire them and to provide them with new shoes.

“Some of these people are walking five to 10 miles a day because they have no other transportation. So to have a new pair of shoes is huge for health and safety reasons as well as just the dignity that comes with it.”

Yet, for all that, the people most moved by Saturday’s encounters would be the players, she said:

“We always say our volunteers are more impacted than the people they are serving. By helping others they realize they really can make a difference in a life.”

“This makes it about something bigger than ourselves,” Gentry added.

columnist
Wright State center Loudon Love washes Marilyn Rockhold’s feet as teammate Grant Benzinger looks on Saturday in East Dayton. TOM ARCHDEACON / CONTRIBUTED

Love agreed: “You always hear college athletes say they don’t get enough as far as money goes and scholarships and things. But really we all get so much. And now for once we get a chance to give something back.

“It’s not exactly a fresh start, but metaphorically you could say that because you’re cleaning people’s feet and giving them a new pair of shoes and just listening to what they have to say.”

Grant Benzinger, who led the Raiders with 17 points Friday, also was fully invested Saturday and found himself in a couple of moving conversations.

“There was one guy, he was getting married to the girl he’d had a crush on when they were just 13 and 14,” he said. “She was here, too, and it was really cool to listen to him talk about that.

“Another lady told me it was now eight months that she was clean. She said it was the first time in 30 years she was off drugs. Now she’s going to school at Sinclair.

“Stories like that are all you need to have a great day.”

And Love seemed to be having just that when he talked about his encounter with Marilyn.

“She wanted to know so much about me and she cared about me. It was really touching. It reminds you of all the good people out there.

“I really liked her. She was adorable.

“Just adorable.”