Hoops for Life served a higher cause

For basketball devotees in Hinsdale, the month of June once was closely associated with Hoops for Life, an annual American Cancer Society fundraiser. This look back on the history of this longtime summer staple uses excerpts from Pam Lannom's story in The Hinsdalean that ran June 12, 2008.

Thirty-five years ago, four 1976 Hinsdale Central grads - Tim Leahy, Jim Toomey, Bill Ryan and Don Sternard - felt compelled to join the fight against cancer, which had touched all of their lives. With the help of some friends and family, they decided to organize a 3-on-3 tournament that would tip off in the Grant Square parking lot in 1989. Of course, parking lots don't typically feature eight fully equipped basketball courts.

"We made the baskets out of wood. We taped the lines with masking tape. We had a leaderboard that was jerry-rigged out of wall board," Leahy said.

Toomey remembers spending all weekend setting things up.

"You're still trying to figure out how it's all going to lay out," he said. "We were just kind of sitting there thinking, 'Who's going to show up? Is anybody going to show up?' "

That inaugural tournament drew 89 teams and raised $27,000.

"When we threw out the opening toss, we played Rocky's theme and that was so cool," Leahy recounted. "We were all so pumped, my buddies and I, because we knew we really were going to accomplish it."

Hoops for Life just grew from there, and by its 10th year 205 teams were competing and $189,000 was raised. It also spawned similar events around the state that collected an additional $1 million for cancer research.

After 20 years and more than $3 million raised locally, the then-young men had become fathers of grown children and were ready to pass the ball.

"I never in a million years thought we would be committed to it for so long," Leahy said. "If there's one thing I'd love the community to take away from (this) is anybody can do this."

The event did continue, becoming Hoops for the House to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana. In 2014, The Community House took over the 3-on-3 tournament, holding games on both its indoor courts and outside in the parking lot at 415 W. Eighth St. in support of its programming.

The founders left a legacy of giving back that continues to score philanthropic points.

"If I'm out there and I'm a mid-20s guy or gal and I really want to make a difference in the community, there's no reason they shouldn't take up a task," Leahy said.

"I hope people continue to do stuff that they believe in," Toomey said. "I hope we do, too."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean