LOWELL — There were ice packs on knees and a line for the massage bench, but 10 hours into the 10th year of the annual Hoops for Hope the players were all feeling good.
Only one score really matters during the 24-hour basketball marathon: the amount raised for the Sihanouk Hospital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This year’s event was already the best on record, having raised around $85,000, with more than half the basketball to go.
“It’s a labor of love,” said Phil Arsenault, one of the organizers and original 24 players. “This is our 10th year and we’ve raised over half-a-million dollars … I regret none of it, but at two in the morning I might be a little exhausted.”
The event has expanded to 48 players and two courts at UMass Lowell’s Costello Athletic Center. Many of the original participants still play, and they’ve been joined by a diverse group of recreational players and former collegiate athletes.
“That’s the great thing about the event: it feels like community, it feels like family, and at the same time we as a community get to help the hospital,” said Maurice Perry, of Westford, who didn’t let the torn meniscus in his right knee or splints in his ankles stop him from defending his bragging rights as the only person to have played for each of the 10 years.
The players maintain close ties to the hospital for which they play. Dr. Gary Jacques, the vice president of global development at HOPE Worldwide and a former executive director of Sihanouk Hospital made an appearance Friday morning.
And Jason Reinhardt, who was the hospital’s director from 2014 to 2015, was one of the star players and fundraisers.
When Sihanouk Hospital opened in 1996, the health-care landscape in Cambodia was so abysmal that patients faced better prospects staying at home than they did trying to go to a hospital, Reinhardt said.
But over the past 22 years the facility, which cares for some of Cambodia’s sickest, most injured, and poorest residents, has transformed into a high-quality research and teaching hospital, having trained more than 5,000 medical professionals.
“It started as all Western doctors and now it’s almost all Khmer,” Reinhardt said.
He then returned to the court and proceeded to sink a three-pointer from the baseline, eliciting “oohs” from the bench and an approving comment from Jay Grasso, another of the original players.
“If a guy raises a lot of money, you better pass him the ball,” he said.
Follow Todd Feathers on Twitter @ToddFeathers.
Source: Lowell Sun