Healthy Hoops Program scores 15th year slam dunk

tribune correspondent

Hundreds turned out to join AmeriHealth Caritas in celebrating the 15th anniversary of Healthy Hoops Program at Universal Audenried Charter School on Sept. 9.

Participants gathered at 3301 Tasker Ave. in South Philadelphia and filled the school’s corridors that were lined with vendors and health professionals providing free screenings and giveaways. A basketball clinic, yoga instructions and workshops were also available.

“We are commemorating the 15th anniversary of Healthy Hoops which is a national program which combines basketball coaching, from some of the best coaches in the regions where we do it, with asthmas health screenings for young children,” said Paul Tufano, CEO of AmeriHealth Caritas.

While the children receive health screenings and basketball coaching during the program, their parents are being educated on the challenges of managing asthma.

“A lot of inner-city kids that we serve have asthma. It plagues a lot of children and it [Healthy Hoops] has really enabled us to get in touch with whether or not their kids have asthma and how to manage it successfully,” said Tufano, who called the program a labor of love for all involved.

“Health care, especially in the Medicaid space, is a community-based, grass-roots type of approach. So we’re successful with programs like Healthy Hoops and ultimately with providing access to health care by working with members of the community,” he said.

“You roll up your sleeves, get into the foxhole with them and you build really strong friendships,” Tufano said.

Dan Hilferty, president of Independence Blue Cross, said that for 15 years AmeriHealth and Keystone First created beneficial programs for youth ages 3 to 16 who suffer from asthma.

“As you know, it can be a very costly disease and folks don’t know how to handle emergency situations,” he said.

“We wanted a program where people could have fun, and that’s the basketball part of it, and where we could also train their family members, parents and guardians on how best to manage their disease,” said Hilferty.

Hilferty said the program helped participants to focus on nutrition and health care as well as getting enough sleep and exercise.

“And if that doesn’t work, how to handle an emergency situation,” he said. “We’ve touched the lives of tens of thousands of young people in eight states and the District of Columbia and we’re still growing.”

No one knows basketball better than sports broadcaster Sonny Hill, who has been with the program since its inception.

“It’s been a 15-year journey and when we first sat down and talked about this, and I can still remember Dan [Hilferty] first called me and said he wanted to set up a meeting with me,” he said, reflecting on the meeting when Healthy Hoops was first discussed.

Hill said that during the meeting, Hilferty explained his initial vision for the program, and together they discussed ways of making that vision a reality.

“As we learned today from that period 15 years ago, we’ve made great inroads into the psyche of not only the parents and the youngsters but the community at large,” said Hill.

Legendary music producer Kenny Gamble described the annual event as wonderful.

“It’s a continuation of the Healthy Hoops Program, and we really appreciate them working with us because that’s what it’s all about, your health is number one,” said Gamble.

Gamble expressed his appreciation to Hilferty and groups like Independence Blue Cross who agreed to partner with them to educate the community and provide healthy programs for its children.

Principal Blanchard Diavua called the relationship with Audenried Charter and AmeriHealth “a great partnership.”

“Here at Audenried we teach health-related technology and we really are about health all of the time,” said Diavua.

“This community, unfortunately, is rampant with obesity and to have a program like this — which service the community, my kids as well as all of the kids in this community — is just amazing,” he said.

“They have really transformed this facility to be a place where kids can get quality screenings and exercise,” he added.