Ogwumike steps up for her community

Chiney Ogwumike might have already got into Stanford, received a scholarship to play basketball, been named the Gatorade National Player of the Year and helped lead Cy-Fair to the Texas state title but she still had one more thing on her to-do list.

She needed to feed some hungry kids.

Ogwumike, ESPN HoopGurlz's No. 1 2010 prospect, said that after growing up in a community that constantly gave to her, she felt it was time to give back.

"I feel like basketball is who I am for just a few minutes a day," Ogwumike said.

With that in mind, Ogwumike started brainstorming with Chet Sekhon, a classmate, one summer day two years ago. What could they do for the community that would involve the Cy-Fair student body?

The answer was simple enough: They should host a dance. Cy-Fair, like many high schools across the country, celebrated homecoming in the fall and prom in the late spring, with not much in between. The difference with this dance, Ogwumike and Sekhon decided, is that they would take all the money they made, and turn it back to the community.

"Lots of people are used to traditional stuff but don't have anything fun after homecoming," Ogwumike said. "We wanted to have fun, but have it go to a good cause."

They chose to donate the money raised to Child Advocates, an organization dedicated to stopping child abuse. They named the event "Step Up For a Reason," and got to work on advertising.

Their goal was to get 200 students to attend the event -- held at the high school -- and raise $2,000. Instead, more than 500 students came. Their profits totaled more than $6,000.

"We blew our own expectations and everyone else's," Sekhon said.

That was their junior year. This spring, their senior year, they knew they had to do more. They were motivated by their classmates, who started to ask Ogwumike and Sekhon in the fall when the next "Step Up" would be.

Last week, Ogwumike and Sekhon hosted "Step Up 2 A Reason," the second act of what they hope will become an annual fundraiser. The money this year will go to My Brother's Keeper, a Houston-based nonprofit that helps "stabilize and strengthen individuals and families in crisis."

Because of a few technical issues this year, they couldn't stay at CFHS, but instead invited the whole community to The MET, a local church. It was part dance, part concert, and themed "Glow in the Dark." But that was hardly the beginning.

In addition to the dance for the district, Ogwumike's club coach, Al Coleman, wanted to help. He suggested Ogwumike and Sekhon plan a separate dance for the teams participating in the Cy Fair Invitational basketball tournament. They dubbed it "Hoopin' 4 Hope," and had more than 300 players show up.

"Yes, Chiney is the No. 1 player in the country and a very popular kid, but people don't really know all the things she does for her community," Coleman said. "I don't see how one person can be at the front of the line in every category; she's truly amazing."

All together, after paying back some costs of hosting, Ogwumike and Sekhon raised more than $6,000, which will help feed approximately 20,000 people. It's an astounding feat for two high school students who are also juggling sports, friends and homework, but according to one Cy-Fair teacher, it shouldn't come as a surprise.

"You should see Chiney work a room," laughed Katherine Hoover, the event adviser. "I've taught for 27 years … her ability to think big and then carry out, I don't think I've had another student like that."

Ogwumike shrugged off any praise she's received for her charitable efforts, insisting it's what she was supposed to do.

"The community helped me so much, with developing into the player I am right now, and I'm so thankful and proud," she said. "We're having this one fun night to say thanks.

"Helping so many people I don't know, that's the only way to reciprocate what I've been given."

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Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to The Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at lindsay@hoopgurlz.com.