Pictured Above, Sgt. Kevin Downs
Story by Meghan Triplett:
Nashville, Tenn. --- Tennessee State University's Department of Athletics will make another stride in its role as a community activist when they join forces with members of the Ohio Valley Conference for "Hoops for Heroes".
"The Hoops for Heroes" project is sponsored by the OVC and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) to benefit veterans in the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). The WWP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, whose goal is to help injured service men and women of the U.S. armed forces.
"When discussing community service opportunities in conjunction with the OVC Basketball Tournament, the SAAC members agreed that sometimes our military men and women get overlooked," explained OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche. "There is such a military presence in our OVC communities, it became the logical choice to honor and give back to those who have served our country."
The objective of this project is for each OVC school to raise money to send a wounded military veteran to the OVC basketball championship from March 2-5, so they can escape everyday life, enjoy a relaxing weekend, and be honored for their service to our country.
Student-athletes from TSU's 13 intercollegiate programs raised money during halftime of the men's basketball game against Delaware State on February 19 in the ESPN Sears BracketBuster.
TSU will sponsor Sgt. Kevin Downs, 25, a native of Kingston Springs, Tenn., a double-amputee and burn victim who has been confined to a wheelchair since his accident in Iraq.
In 2005, Downs and three members of the 278th Armored Calvary Regiment were attacked by four explosive devices while they traveled in their Humvee. Downs was the only survivor of the explosion and was thrown 60 feet away from the blast suffering 2nd and 3rd degree burns to over 60 percent of his body. At that time, he was 20-years old and had only been in Iraq for eight months.
Since returning home, Downs has received visits from former U.S. President George W. Bush, Congressman Jim Cooper, and was escorted by the Rolling Thunder motorcade.
"It made me feel honored that TSU wanted to show their appreciation for what I did, and what I've been through," said Sgt. Downs after receiving a phone call from Valencia Jordan, TSU Senior Women's Administrator. "
"I have never heard anything about Tennessee State before now, but to receive the invitation to represent the university at the OVC Basketball Tournament makes me know that there are people who value the service to our country. It makes me happy and means a lot to me."
TSU's SAAC representatives selected to participate in the "Hoops for Heroes" project instead of the annual food drive.
"The OVC has always taken on community service for the conference, and I was comfortable with it; these men and women serve our country while sacrificing their lives for our freedom," Jordan mentioned. "So even if it just brings awareness, we will probably keep it tabbed as 'Hoops for Heroes'".
"Especially looking at Sgt. Downs' story and circumstances," added Jordan, "I think we should do this all the time."
Unfortunately, Downs will miss this year's event due to ongoing surgery to help repair the damage that was done to his body. However, he has stated that he will attend TSU athletic events in the near future.
First Sgt. Michael Burke, who was deployed with Downs, will attend the tournament on his behalf. Sgt. Burke is the father of current TSU Softball pitcher, Susie Burke.