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Great State: PlaySmart

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — A little hoops in the backyard. Dad’s and kids goofing off together. How often do you hear basketballs bouncing around OKC neighborhoods with the Thunder in the NBA Finals? We all have our heroes in blue but Frank Ille knows how important the right coach or teacher can be too. “You don’t think it’s important as a kid but I think everybody remembers their favorite coaches the rest of their lives,” he says.

Not long ago he was a kid himself. Frank’s dad coached basketball and baseball. Frank played sports too. He followed the laces of a football through high school at Bishop McGuinness. Ille played quarterback at Princeton University. Eventually, he became a coach and dad too. He stayed involved with sports. At a basketball tournament reunion, the lessons his coaches taught him came full circle. “A bunch of college classmates and I used to meet every 4th of July for a basketball tournament,” he says.

Frank and his old college buddies still get together for reunions. They party a little, but credit this particular group of frat buddies and ex-jocks for something else. Several years back they began talking about the people who helped them most growing up. Out of that first meeting came the idea for a foundation and a sports camp called PlaySmart designed to teach underprivileged kids the same lessons coaches and fathers taught them. Frank recalls, “I think when we started talking about PlaySmart we talked about how to give back to society and the first thing we wanted to do was work with kids.”

PlaySmart camps have sprouted up in a few cities across the country. Frank is organizing first one in OKC. It took a while to line everything up, but he and a bunch of other local dads are anxious to teach. “Our mission at PlaySmart is to help underprivileged kids reach their academic and life potential through athletics.”

Sportsmanship, discipline, teamwork. Thanks to the Thunder we’re all civic witness to that kind of success on the court. From backyard to arena, Frank Ille and friends are hoping those same lessons spread out much further.