Give him a high five

By JASER A. MARASIGAN
November 18, 2009, 9:41am

A spur-of-the-moment basketball game with some children from Cebu has left a lasting impression on American basketball fanatic Bill Hilf.

Hilf was in the country on a business trip last year when he came across a group of children playing basketball on a street court using a makeshift hoop.

“I was out jogging and I saw these kids on the street playing basketball. I played with them for three hours and later that day, I went to a sporting goods store and bought basketballs for the kids. The kids were happy to receive the basketballs, but while passing them out, I thought about how else we could use basketball to introduce the fantastic attributes of sports to the children. Like making friends on court, collaborating as a team, trying your best to achieve a goal, and developing self-confidence and discipline,” he relates.

Immediately after returning to the US, Hilf started the group High Five Hope with the hope of helping the Filipino children’s spirits grow and enabling them to find their self-value and experience joy and happiness through sports.

High Five Hope also provides street children access not just to basketballs and clothes, but also to coaching and an opportunity to learn life-skills.

“How can we use sports for children in need and how we can use sports to help them develop into successful adults? That was the beginning of High Five Hope,” Hilf relates. “This is the first time that I did something like this. That experience in Cebu made a really big impact on me. I got very emotional after playing with those kids. It’s very personal for me. I went through depression when I was a kid because of some family problems and basketball became my escape. I look at sports now as a way to help them. If I can help change even just one kid and turn their life around that will already make me happy.”

Following through on its mission, High Five Hope has partnered with Childhope Asia in the Philippines to reach out to more Filipino street children.

High Five Hope and Childhope Asia are taking the kids off the streets and giving them access to sports, to inspire participants to believe in themselves and eventually enable them to make a lasting positive change in their lives.

Recently, High Five Hope and Childhope Asia held the 2nd Hope Sports Festival, which culminated with championship matches at The Arena in San Juan City. Over 300 children participated in the basketball and volleyball clinics in the eight-week tournament, which enabled the children to enjoy their right to play and learn in a positive and safer environment.

“A lot of charities focus on the biological needs of the kids but there are very few that focus on the spirit, character and child development. I just knew in my heart that I have to go back here in the Philippines and do something. I know God had a hand in it. It changed me and the way I look at the world,” he shares.

For this year’s tournament, Hilf provided the kids with uniforms, including socks and shoes.

“We noticed that in the entire tournament last year, some of the kids played without shoes. Even if they were barefoot or in slippers, they were great players and we wanted to enhance their skills with the right tools,” he adds.

SMALL SUCCESSES ARE BIG SUCCESSES

Back in Redmond, Washington, Hilf also coaches teams in children’s basketball leagues. Aside from his regular work at Microsoft Corporation as general manager for Marketing and Strategy, he is also involved in a Microsoft program which encourages employees to give back to their community by volunteering or donating.

“I played basketball my whole life. You can compare how you play a game with how you live your life – there are challenges that you have to face and you could make a lot of bad decisions. I have seen sports as a way to keep children on the right path,” he says.

Small successes – such as mastering a skill, being able to make a shot, or developing friendships – build up confidence. The participants witness concrete proof that they can accomplish something they can be proud of, and that they can feel part of something bigger than themselves.

“Basketball helps develops one’s physical and mental well-being. It starts out something that you can focus in instead of being involved in other less motivating activities. What is magical about sports are the small successes that you experience,” he says.

Next year, Hilf hopes to get 600 kids to participate in the program. He believes that each kid has the potential to live a good life in the future. And for as long as the kids promise that they’ll keep the principles of High Five Hope, Hilf vows to continue with this lofty mission.