How a 14-Year-Old Used His Jump Shot To Support the Troops
Eli Bernstein |
Fourteen-year-old Will Thomas has raised more than $100,000 for U.S. veterans. The funds are used to provide support for families of soldiers lost in action, medical and living expenses for veterans, and memorials to those who have fallen in the line of duty. But to Will, the desire to help is about a lot more than just money.
Will's real mission is to show appreciation and support for U.S. special-operations forces — a select class of elite soldiers from the Army, Navy, and Air Force that is frequently asked to take on dangerous yet highly important assignments.
To understand why Will chose this cause, you have to flash back to 2011. Back then, Will was your average 12-year-old boy living in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C. Will loved sports. He was a middle infielder and pitcher in baseball and a shooting guard in basketball.
In August 2011, Will and his family were at a baseball tournament in New York when news broke of a tragedy in Afghanistan. A special-operations Chinook helicopter named Extortion 17 was shot down and had crashed. Thirty U.S. soldiers died. It was, and still is, the largest American loss of life in a single day during the war in Afghanistan.
One evening soon after, Will was shooting hoops in the driveway with his father, Bill. As they talked about the crash, Will told his dad that he wished there was some way he could help raise awareness about these soldiers and what had happened. Will didn't personally know any of the people who died, but he was struck by the fact that all of these soldiers were lost while serving their country. "At first I couldn't process how big of a deal it was," remembers Will. "But when I looked into the details, I realized that it was a big deal."
Suddenly, Will had an idea. Why not honor the servicemen by doing something that he loved? "I thought it would be original and easy if I started shooting baskets for the soldiers," says Will. "I could ask people to donate money for each basket I sank. As my dad and I kept talking about it, the idea sounded better and better."
Will's first donation came from his father, who pledged a penny for every basket made. Soon word spread through the community and to states as far away as Michigan. Most of the pledges were modest, $5 here and $10 there. But collectively, Will realized that he could raise a lot of money — if he could sink a whole lot of baskets.
That Labor Day weekend, Will set up on his driveway to complete his end of the deal. It didn't take long to sink the first basket. Then came the next. And the next. Friends stopped by. Local reporters who had heard about the challenge were there too.
Through it all, Will never stopped hoisting the ball. For stretches in the evening, it was just him and his dad, who kept track of each made shot with a hand-held clicker.
By Monday afternoon, Will had reached his goal of 17,000 baskets made. He was tired but he decided to keep going. Eventually he was stroking the ball in falling rain. When he finally stopped, the tally was 20,000 baskets made and $50,000 raised — all from shooting hoops in the driveway.