Our dining hall was bursting with energy on Tuesday for the Hoops to Homework draft night, tipping off the program’s 29th season. Our friends from the Chicago Bulls were on hand to help celebrate, including current players Wendell Carter Jr. and Denzel Valentine, as well as former player Bob Love.
Before things got underway, the Bulls’ cheer and stunt team, the IncrediBulls, hyped up the crowd by showing off their acrobatics, tossing out t-shirts, and giving kids a chance to warm-up for the season with a mini-basketball and hoop. And with the Bulls DJ on the ones and twos, the tone was set for an exciting evening.
As everyone settled in, Mercy Home’s vice president of education and career resources Liz Kuhn Tomka thanked everyone who makes Hoop to Homework possible. “This program would not be possible without the support of my coworkers here at Mercy Home, the Chicago Bulls organization, TransUnion, and Swish House,” Tomka said.
Next to the microphone was Swish House CEO Jonathon Dues. Swish House is a business that offers basketball fitness classes at different locations throughout Chicago, including Mercy Home. On Sunday evenings, Hoops to Homework participants go through a 45-minute basketball clinic with Swish House before playing 5-on-5 games.
“We always have a theme every year for Hoops to Homework – this year it’s all about building each other up on and off the court,” Dues said. “And we’re looking forward to you guys living that, breathing that every day in the classroom, at Mercy Home, and on Sundays when you come to work with us.”
Chicago Bulls play-by-play announcer Chuck Swirsky was also on hand for the event and shared a bit of his own background with our kids.
“Believe it or not, I’ve walked in your shoes,” Swirsky said. “I grew up in a single-parent home; my dad died when I was a little boy. My mom was an elementary school teacher; she actually worked three jobs so she could put food on the table. And without mentorship from coaches, from other adults – I wouldn’t be in this position today.”
Next was the ceremonial unveiling of the banner from last year’s Hoops to Homework champions, the blue team. The banner will hang in our Noha Gymnasium alongside league champions from years past. Tomka then announced that this year’s championship game will once again be played at the United Center, and all teams will have a chance to play on the professional court.
Following this exciting news, the main event of the night commenced: the draft. Before each coach announced their selection, they explained their thought-process behind the pick. They highlighted the strengths of each player on and off the court and the different roles they will play on the team.
Just like the pros, participants made their way to the front upon hearing their name called to receive a team jersey and have their photo taken with the Bulls. And with the Bulls DJ spinning different jams for each pick, some kids even danced their way to the front, including Peter, a Mercy Home resident.
Peter was a member of last year’s championship blue team and was drafted to the blue team again this year. For him, Hoops to Homework is a way to stay motivated with his goals at Mercy Home.
“I think of Hoops to Homework as a reward, because if I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, maintaining my grades – the whole weekend I look forward to it,” Peter said. “I go on pass and as soon as I get back on Sunday it’s time to game and I’m looking forward to another good week at school.”