On a night that capped off an historic stretch of sub-zero temperatures, a proud tradition burned bright at Mercy Home. Now one of the most anticipated evenings of the year for our kids, we kicked off the 28th season of Hoops to Homework with a festive NBA-style draft.

Fr. Scott Donahue addressed those in attendance by putting both the weather and the game of basketball in perspective.

“After a very cold week, a very cold night tonight – we gather in a very warm place,” Fr. Scott said. “We gather with the warmth of an understanding that hoops is a wonderful sport. But it also helps us – with our education and to do better in school.”

Jonathon Dues, CEO of Swish House, emceed this year’s draft night. Swish House is an organization that offers basketball fitness classes to adults, taught by former professional and collegiate players.

Hoops to Homework participants go through a 45-minute Swish House clinic with Dues and his staff on Sunday evenings before competing in five-on-five games. It’s an opportunity for our kids to work on their basketball fundamentals and also learn important life lessons.

“Whether you love hoops, kind of like hoops, or don’t really care about hoops, if you want to get better at anything, you don’t just show up — you show up and you work,” Dues explained to our kids. “And we’re going to teach you how to work.”

Dues also thanked the sponsors who make Hoops to Homework possible: TransUnion and the Chicago Bulls. Our kids’ faces lit up when Dues announced that this year’s Hoops to Homework championship game will be played at the United Center – home court of the Chicago Bulls and the same floor that Michael Jordan once played on.

“Whether you love hoops, kind of like hoops, or don’t really care about hoops, if you want to get better at anything, you don’t just show up — you show up and you work.”

As they prepare to defend their title, last year’s Hoops to Homework winners had a chance to unveil their championship banner, which will be hung proudly in our Noha Gym alongside champions of years past.

Excitement reigned throughout the evening, but it peaked during the draft. This experience gives our kids a chance to feel like the pros as they anxiously await hearing their name called. Not only do they get to find out what team they will play for, they get to hold their jersey for the first time.

This year’s four teams are coached by a combination of Mercy Home coworkers and Swish House staff. As coaches took to the podium to announce their draft picks, they hyped up each player with projected statistics, the roles they will play on the team, and the intangibles they bring to the court.

It was an amazing night for all those who attended, but especially for our kids. We are so grateful for TransUnion, the Chicago Bulls, and Swish House for making this night such a positive experience for our young people.