News Article
NEPSAC Athletes and Coaches Educate and Empower Youth with Shooting Touch
Sponsored by Scoreboard Enterprises

10/18/18

By BOB YORK

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Justin Kittredge, who once made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for swishing 64 free throws over a two-minute span, would come up with the name “Shooting Touch” for a non-profit basketball organization he co-founded with his wife, Lindsey, in 2007.

“Justin’s a passionate basketball lover and coach who was working with under-served youth in and around the Boston area,” explained Lindsay of what proved to be the organization’s birth. “He was teaching them basketball fundamentals and offering mentoring skills off the court,” she added about the clinics that would attract about 20 youngsters on weekends to the Boston Athletic Club. “He knew that the kids couldn’t otherwise afford a mainstream basketball camp or clinic and they showed up every week … grateful and happy.”

“It started off with just one kid who was looking for direction both on and off the court … then two kids … then three kids,” remembers Justin of his clinic’s beginnings. “Back then, there were a number of opportunities for kids to get help either on the court or off it … but not both at the same clinic.”

Slowly but surely, Kittredge began questioning his do-it-yourself approach, though, as his clinic enrollment figures began surpassing 20 something, and his camps were attracting some 50 to 60 participants each.

“I loved every minute of the coaching and tutoring experience,” said Kittredge. “I coached just the way I wanted to coach. I wanted the kids to work hard and if they didn’t, well, they could find another clinic to play at and I think the kids appreciated that sort of approach. As the enrollment figures continued to grow, however, we knew we had to make some changes.”   
    
So, the Kittredges set out to make their program bigger, better and more inclusive – for players and instructors – and today, neither Justin, the organization’s chief strategist, nor Lindsey, its executive director, could ever have imagined just how far “Shooting Touch” has come over the past 11 years. 

What Kittredge, who honed his love of and his skills for basketball under legendary coach Bill Batty while attending Northfield Mount Hermon School (96) and later at James Madison University, is most amazed about is that in just over a decade’s time, those weekend hoop clinics have morphed into what has now become an international sensation. Today, the Kittredges oversee a non-profit that, according to Lindsey, who was a three-sport standout at The Rivers School before concentrating on lacrosse at the University of Vermont, they are very proud of. “This,” said Lindsey, “is an organization that uses the power of basketball to educate and empower at-risk youth, women and their communities to live healthier lives in hopes of breaking an endless cycle of poverty and disease.”

“In our opinion, the primary reason for the success of this organization is that it was created for all the right reasons,” said Justin. “We created an organization that uses basketball to achieve two objectives … to promote equal access to physical activity and provide health and educational services, while affording youth both on- and off-court programming that consists of on-court skills and lessons as well as off-court values.”

To insure these objectives reached fruition, the Kittredges devised a game plan for “Shooting Touch” that made it a two-pronged effort to inform and enable. On the home front, they created Boston G3: Getting Girls in the Game, while abroad, they established Rwanda: The Basketball Health Corps.

“G3 or Getting Girls in the Game annually provides 150 Boston-area girls, ages 9 to 17, an opportunity to partake in supportive and female-friendly programing that provides off-court health education, mentorship and academic tutoring,” explained Lindsey.

“As for the program in Rwanda, it serves more than 1,500 youth, ages 7 to 21, plus some 350 women over the age of 21,” she added. “The program covers four rural communities in the Republic of Rwanda’s Eastern Province and supplies these poverty-stricken communities with essential health education and intervention.” 

The lofty number of enrollees belies the effort it has taken the Kittredges – and dozens of skilled “Shooting Touch” staff – to recruit them, however. That’s because introducing basketball into a country that has long considered soccer its number-one sport was never looked upon as a slam-dunk.

 “We went into communities and  introduced the joy of sport and physical activity…and people flocked to simply play,” said Lindsey. “Hundreds of people showed up daily. The simple and mobilizing power of sport brought communities together, we didn’t ever have to offer them anything to play.

“They jumped at the chance to learn a sport,” she added “However when we realized that 3 years in, kids and women were lying on the court too sick to engage, we then decided it was our obligation to get them well ---afterall, we brought this game changing, life changing sport opportunity to them. We had to get them well in order to reap the benefits of our programming.“

Having served as director of the Basketball Product Division at Reebok for 15 years before leaving in 2013 to start his own footwear company – Islide, Inc., which produces and sells athletic sandals – the Kittredges knew they needed to surround themselves with capable people if “Shooting Touch” was to be successful. And that’s exactly what they did.

Today, “Shooting Touch,” which will have a fiscal year 2019 operating budget of $725,000, features a 14-member board of directors, an eight-member board of ambassadors and a five-member Rwandan advisory board and they have all shared their savvy for business and basketball to help the Kittredges make this organization a success.

Highlighting the Board of Directors roster are some familiar names including New England Prep School Athletic Council notables such as Board Chairman Alex Gallagher, the athletic director at Noble and Greenough School, as well as Ellen Crowley, an assistant girls basketball coach at the school. Other notable names belong to Kevin Eastman, a former assistant coach with the Boston Celtics under Coach Doc Rivers and current vice president of basketball operations for the L.A. Clippers; Amy Latimer, president of TD Garden in Boston; Jackie MacMullan, ESPN author and commentator, and Kathy Delaney-Smith, Harvard University women’s basketball coach.

Among the members making up its Board of Ambassadors, meanwhile, is Kenny Atkinson, the head coach of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and Bob Hurley, the legendary basketball coach of St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, N.J., whose teams won 930 games, 25 state titles and three national championships.          

“Surrounding yourself with good people certainly doesn’t hurt,” quipped Kittredge, And to his credit, he has also maintained close ties with a number of NEPSAC members.

“The council has an abundance of extremely talented basketball coaches whom we often use to run our basketball clinics,” said Kittredge. “Plus, Roxbury Latin has been very generous in allowing us to use its beautiful gymnasium for some of our camps.”

Supplying coaches and facilities isn’t the only way NEPSAC has been assisting the organization, however. Thanks to Gallagher, the athletic director and girls’ basketball coach at Nobles, the Kittredges have had extra volunteers of late to help lighten their load. For the past three years, Gallagher’s players have spent their spring break in Rwanda, serving as volunteers for the program.

“It’s a fantastic organization,” said Gallagher, “and it just goes to show you how a husband and wife can take a chance on something and guide it to fruition. Here, they’ve exhibited the power of basketball and what they’ve done with the sport in Boston and Rwanda has served as an inspiration to me and to countless others.

“I consider myself a humble volunteer and it’s a role I really cherish,” added Gallagher. “Basketball has given me a lot in life and this is my way of paying it forward. Over the past three years, I’d say we’ve taken about 60 kids to Rwanda and I bet every one of them would admit their trip there has been a life-changing experience … I know it’s been one for me.”

One of Gallagher’s volunteers who brought her expertise to the basketball courts of Rwanda was Katie Benzan, a former 2,000-point scorer at Nobles, who was a four-time All-New England selection, as well as a three-time NEPSAC All-Star and MVP selection.

“Having grown up in the Boston area, spending some time with “Shooting Touch” in Rwanda was certainly an eye-opening experience,” said Benzan, who now, as a junior at Harvard, has scored nearly 800 points in just two years and has chalked up back-to-back All-Ivy League nominations. “You can’t help but go there and not come away with a greater appreciation for what you have back here at home.

“It was a tremendous opportunity to go to Rwanda and, through the sport of basketball, help raise the lifestyle as well as the spirit of the Rwandan people,” added Benzan. “It was an amazing experience to help educate and empower those young boys and girls and women to be able to lead healthier lives.”

While Benzan’s former coach is a member of the “Shooting Touch” board, so too is Delaney-Smith, her current mentor at Harvard. Although she, like Gallagher, has a very busy schedule, she too loves being a part of the organization.

“You can’t say no when the Kittredges ask you to do something … they have such a passion for basketball … so when they asked me if I might be interested in joining “Shooting Touch,” I jumped at the opportunity,” said Delaney-Smith, who is the most successful head coach in Ivy League history as she enters her 37th season at Harvard with 11 Ivy League titles and a record of 585-395.  “It’s wonderful what this program has done for the less fortunate. It has educated and empowered those at-risk to live healthier lives and I’m extremely proud to be a part of it.”

Shooting Touch” is growing and can’t meet the demand of programming that its communities in Boston and Rwanda are wanting and needing. If anyone would like to support or get more involved, you can contact Lindsey at lkittredge@shootingtouch,com.

The NEPSAC SPECIAL NEWS is sponsored by Scoreboard Enterprises. Scoreboard Enterprises is a Sports Technology Company and exclusive Daktronics dealer in the New England area. We provide, install and service scoreboards, video displays and audio systems designed specifically for athletic facilities. Contact us for more information at www.scoreboardenterprises.com; 274 Fruit Street Mansfield, MA 02048, 508-339-8113.