By Mike Garabedian '12
Denison Sports Information Student Assistant
As Casey Stockton left the basketball court for the final time after a heartbreaking loss to Wooster in the NCAC title game, he thought his basketball career was over.
Weeks later, he learned that it was just beginning.
Stockton played in 105 games from 2008-12 for the Denison Big Red. But in the midst of those 105 games, he was destined to achieve something even bigger.
In the spring of 2011, Bob Ghiloni, who was Stockton's head coach with the Big Red, handed him an article written by Bob Hohler of The Boston Globe titled "Barros's mission to change lives." The article told the story of Tome Barros, a 24-year-old man who used the game of basketball to teach not only the game but also valuable life lessons to children in third-world countries. Barros was able to do this through "Shooting Touch," a Boston-based company that uses the sport of basketball to positively impact the lives of children both on and off the court.
Founded by Justin and Lindsey Kittredge, the program includes former and current professional basketball players, sports writers, and successful basketball coaches, including Bob Hurley, Jason Terry, Danillo Gallinari and Fran Fraschilla.
The company's non-profit entity, The Shooting Touch Sabbatical Program, also referred to as "The Basketball Peace Corps," grants graduating college seniors the opportunity to partake in a 10-month international work program using the platform of basketball to help foster education and influence positive social change in third-world communities.
"When I first saw the article, I wanted to apply for it right away," Stockton said. "But I had to wait it out because I was only a junior at the time.
"As a young, ignorant idealist in high school, I thought I could change the entire world. In college, you find new ways to change the world and you narrow it down. This was one of those ways. I didn't even know it existed until Coach Ghiloni handed me the article but as soon as I read all about it, I knew it was my dream job."
Stockton has always had a passion for teaching internationally. A product of Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., Stockton had already been accepted to teach English in both Honduras and Nicaragua before learning his fate in The Shooting Touch Sabbatical Program.
"I knew that it would be competitive, but I also knew that I would do whatever I could to get the job," Stockton said.
The Shooting Touch Sabbatical Program provides two grantees a $25,000 stipend to fund the entire journey. After selecting from a list of countries to travel to, the grantee is responsible for managing the budget and allocating all costs throughout the 10-month journey. If selected, the grantee must design his/her own work program in a country and also spend two weeks working with the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Basketball Without Borders Program at a location determined by the NBA.
The grantee's program must fall within the guidelines of Shooting Touch's HELP Curriculum. The four themes in the HELP program include the health promotion and disease prevention, education in gender equality and leadership, learning basketball on-court skills as well as strength, condition and nutrition and providing places of play by building courts and outdoor spaces.
After the grantee finishes the 10-month stint, he/she must develop of follow-up plan for their country to ensure that the positive impact they make will be sustained by the local community for years to come.
Recent winners such as Barros and Leah Westbrooks traveled to countries like Senegal, Brazil, South Africa and Zimbabwe to help children.
"The only thing I knew for sure about the program after I applied was that it was going to be unpredictable. I had been reading the blog from Zimbabwe and every day seemed to be different," Stockton said. "Some days involved training local counselors; others consisted of building courts or volunteering in the local community. It's really all over the place and you have to play it by ear but that's how it works."
Stockton applied for the Shooting Touch Sabbatical in December 2011, well ahead of the Jan. 31, 2012 deadline. If he was called to be in the next round, Stockton would have to create a YouTube video to demonstrate his creativity and show why he was deserving of the grant. The video played a key role in the selection of the candidate, as the video with the greatest number of views awarded the applicant an extra vote in the final standings.
"Honestly, I was so excited about the program that I started the YouTube video in my head before I was even selected in the second round," Stockton said. "The wheels started turning in my head and I didn't want to get ahead of myself but I started writing down ideas. I knew I would have to be creative to get the committees attention."
When Stockton was selected for the second round, he furiously started working on his video. When it was completed, he utilized all facets of social media to increase his video's views and further convince the committee that he was the right person for the program.
"I shared it on Facebook and tried to get celebrities to re-tweet it. I tweeted the video at [Michigan quarterback] Denard Robinson, who re-tweeted it to his thousands of followers, and [Michigan State basketball player] Derrick Nix, who also re-tweeted it," Stockton said.
In the end, Stockton's video garnered more views than any other applicant for the program, giving him an extra vote in the final tally.
"I think the video is a reflection of creativity and effort the person puts in," Stockton said. "I think it showed my effort and the video was very important. The final vote was very close so the extra vote was huge."
On the evening of March 20, 2012, Stockton was attempting to study in the Denison library.
It was selection night.
"They told me that if I was picked, I'd get a phone call. If not, I'd get an email," Stockton said. "It got to be 8:02 and I just couldn't sit down any more. I started speed-walking and doing laps around [Denison's academic quad]. I was walking in circles. I walked into [Slayter Student Union] and was a mess. I'm pretty sure everyone thought I was losing my mind."
At 8:18 p.m. the moment finally arrived.
"I got a phone call and the number came up as 'unknown.' My heart just stopped," Stockton said. "Justin and Lindsey Kittredge were on the other end. For about four minutes, they talked about how close of a vote it was and they kept me on edge. It was getting to the point where I thought I lost because I just needed to hear them say the words. They finally told me I won and I felt like I was in a dream state. I didn't know what to say."
The next step for Stockton was to select his country.
The previous spring, Denison invited Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire to campus to share his experiences during the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. In 1993, Dallaire took command of the United Nations Observer Mission for Uganda and Rwanda and led the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross in recognition of his exceptional leadership and professionalism.
"Dallaire truly inspired me when he came to Denison," Stockton said. "The way he spoke about Rwanda just made me feel compelled to go over there. The conditions were so bad.
"The great thing about Denison is that it gave me the resources to develop my own philosophy of education and what works with kids and that has allowed me to move up in the non-profit world. I started at the Ann Arbor YMCA, then went to Harlem for the Harlem RBI program and now I have this opportunity. I really attribute this success to Denison for introducing me to my own philosophies and I wouldn't have even considered Rwanda if Denison hadn't brought in Lieutenant-General Dallaire to speak. I listened to him and wanted to go to Rwanda. Denison played a huge role in my decision."
When he learned that he had been selected, Stockton posted a Facebook status that informed his friends and family of the news. Within hours, the post was "liked" over 200 times.
"It was really cool walking around and people were saying how much they appreciated what I was doing – people I had never even talked to," Stockton said. "It was really a special culmination of my education and athletic career."
After Stockton was selected to the program and made Rwanda his country of choice, new goals and concerns hovered over the 2012 Denison graduate. The $25,000 budget provided by Shooting Touch would be to fund his entire trip, including his plane tickets, materials for building courts, food and shelter. To help offset the cost of living and goods and equipment for the Rwandan children, Stockton plans to utilize host families to live with in Rwanda and Shooting Touch sponsors such as Reebok in addition to his budget.
"I will try to get the most real experience," Stockton said. "I want to stay with a family. I don't know any Rwandan cuisine either, so that will be interesting."
The genocide, budget and money aren't concerns to Stockton. But there is one thing that does worry him.
I'm just concerned about the number of injections that I get [to fight diseases]," said Stockton. I hate shots. I don't want to think about it."
After his 10-month stint in Rwanda, Stockton has many goals and aspirations for both the country and himself.
"Sustainability is the key," Stockton said. "What I do over there will mean nothing if it can't be sustained. Building courts and forming relationships with local businesses and people that can help sustain is are a must. Also, Shooting Touch is working on selecting an individual each year to go to countries where previous grantees have gone to help with sustainability.
"As for me, I would like to continue in this field and help further develop international countries through basketball. If I can't keep up with Shooting Touch or the NBA's Basketball Without Borders Program, I would like to start my own non-profit organization."
Stockton leaves for Rwanda this October. He, along with Isaura Guzman, is one of two people selected for the 2012 Shooting Touch Sabbatical Program. He'll meet Justin and Lindsey Kittredge on Sept. 15.
"As part of the mission, I want to teach [the children in Rwanda] not only the game but the lessons that come with it, including fitness, health and gender equality. I want them to experience the things basketball has given me, like friendship, brotherhood, work ethic and time management skills. If I can give them that, I'll be satisfied."
UPDATE: Aug. 8, 2012