Hoops From The Heart 8

Free Throws For Kids Scores Big For Local Youth

Points don’t matter for Free Throws for Kids. The only point is to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of kids and families at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Each April since 2014, teams gather to shoot free throws, raise money and have a lot of fun. Local husband and wife team, Mark and Sarah Johnston, started the ball rolling on this popular event. The Johnstons are motivated to give back to our community, where they live, work and raise their two young boys.

“I wanted to do something in my community,” Mark explains. “I wanted it to be unique. I absolutely love basketball—I always have. I figured everybody can shoot free throws.”

What started with a goal for 10 teams to raise $10,000, has brought in more than $400,000 to date. Free Throws for Kids uses the money to provide 800 Care Packages to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Each package includes fuel gift cards, food gift cards and other special items for the patients.

In 2015, Free Throws for Kids purchased a commercial-grade salad bar for Ronald McDonald House and now covers the expenses to fill it with enough fresh vegetables to feed 80 families per day all year long.

Much of the success of the event is due to community support and corporate sponsorships.

“We have an incredible sponsorship from White Castle,” Mark says.

White Castle not only gives money, but also donates sliders on event day and brings a number of teams. Mark invites other West Chester and Liberty Township businesses and organizations to get in the game as well.

“We are really looking to increase the number of teams we have by getting local businesses and organizations involved,” Mark says.

“For companies, it’s a great team-building event—a way to get out into the community and do something together rather than just writing a check,” he says.

The fifth annual Free Throws for Kids is coming Saturday, April 7, at Lakota West High School. Three sessions allow for up to 72 teams this year. Teams of 4-10 friends, family or colleagues fundraise toward a team goal of $1,250.

All ages of participants are welcome. The only qualification is that players are able to shoot to score—even granny-style counts. Each team works together to shoot 500 free throws.

“Skill level doesn’t matter,” Mark explains. “It’s about the kids. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether the team makes 100 or 500 of their shots,” he says.

Spectators are welcome to this carnival-like day, complete with popcorn, cotton candy, music and more than 36,000 free throws.

Mark is thoughtful as he reflects on the positive impacts of Free Throws for Kids.

“Our goal with all of this was to show God’s love in a very practical way,” he explains.

“I have a lot of really great people in my life,” Mark says, “…definitely my wife. More than that, we have a lot of great friends and family who are willing to help implement my crazy plans. People passionately get on board and stay on board,” he says with a wide smile.

“There’s something about helping others who are going through challenging times and trying to leave a legacy. That’s really what matters.” Mark Johnston shoots, and he scores big for kids.