It started out quite simply. Dobbie Herrion was driving his SUV around St. Louis. He noticed a basketball court without a net. He went to the store and bought a $3 net. The next day he returned to that court with his ladder and hung the new net. It was a small gesture that made a huge difference in his life and is changing the lives of kids.
“Selfishly, I liked the feeling I got,” said Herrion.
He bought more nets and kept them in his vehicle along with his ladder.
“I drove around and I saw courts with no net or nets so ragged they needed new ones,” he said. “Next time, I just took out my ladder and asked if I could put up a net, People responded as if someone had come and blessed the courts.
Soon at other courts guys stopped playing to help him and to talk to him. Then people in the community came out. Within a couple of weeks, Herrion’s wife Tameka and another friend were helping him.
“The net is a hook, something visible. It leads to conversation,” said Herrion, 36, director of the Academic Support Center at St. Louis Community College and lover of the game. “I never only saw this as me hanging up basketball nets. I know the people need much more than basketball nets. These young kids need mentoring, visible leadership and opportunities to get involved in the community.”
So Herrion turned hanging nets into a nonprofit called Neighborhood Nets, an organization set to provide mentoring, workshops and scholarships to basketball camps, with plans to broaden its services in the future.
It’s only been three months since Herrion hung his first net. To date, Neighborhood Nets has hung 80 nets and Herrion expects the total will be 100 before winter sets in. Already, he has been honored by Allstate, which recognized him in its “Give It Up For Good” campaign.
In a press release, Lisa Cochrane, senior vice president of marketing for Allstate, explained, “Through this initiative, we’re able to recognize individuals who are leading their communities through service and are an inspiration to all.”
Herrion is stunned by the attention his efforts have gotten. “Who gets this kind of recognition in a month for hanging up basketball nets?” he asked.
But it is probably the simplicity of his efforts that have captured people’s imagination.
“I think he’s like a lot of people who are always asking, ‘What can I do?’” said Herrion’s good friend, Kellen Goodwin, who now volunteers to help market Neighborhood Nets and find sponsors. “Here was something simple that just fell into his lap. I think it came because he didn’t wrack his brain and did something natural to him. When you aren’t in politics or involved in high level meetings, you wonder how you can make an impact. We all hope this will inspire others.”
It wasn’t long before Herrion’s wife and a member of his newly formed board started helping him hang nets. If one of them saw a netless rim, they’d call Herrion and the three of them met at the location.
“We’d interview kids about playing with a rim with no net. The kids loved the interaction,” said Herrion.
And his two helpers witnessed the “impact something so simple could have on people,” he said.
Herrion remembers when he had a rim without a net in his driveway and so he understands the thinking of the kids and young guys on the public courts. “If you don’t have a ladder, it’s not worth the effort,” he said. “I’m sure they figure they’ll wait until the city gets around to it. And by that time, basketball season could be over.”
The basketball player in Herrion knows the net makes a big difference in the experience of playing ball. “Without a net, it’s like playing on an incomplete rim. There’ no indication you have accomplished a thing if you don’t hear that ball go through the net. You have to hear that ball swish. The net completes your shot.”
He has talked to kids who told him also that having a net “cuts down on a lot of fights because they argue about whether or not a shot went through.”
Neighborhood Nets checks on its rims to make sure they don’t slip into disrepair. Herrion also sometimes plays games with the guys at the locations where he has hung nets. Now that “net hanging season” is about to end, the organization will start Resources to Rebound, its youth program on character education and personal development for boys and girls.
“We would like to work with these teams to develop life skills off the court,” said Herrion. “We know the chances of going pro are low to none; we want to make sure that player is a well-rounded individual who can think, manage emotions and knows what it takes to be successful.”
He wants to award scholarships to basketball summer camps for those who attend Resources to Rebound.
In the future, Herrion hopes to partner with some NBA teams, high schools or colleges to provide even more nets and volunteers. Already, Neighborhood Nets has received requests for nets from other states and from Canada. Herrion gladly sends the nets, information on the organization and a Neighborhood Nets t-shirt.
“It costs them nothing,” noted Herrion, who is the father of two young sons. “Sure, people could buy nets for their communities but I think they like the idea of supporting what we do and we like providing a service. All we ask is they take a before and after picture of the rim and photos of them in the t-shirt.”
What makes it all worthwhile, said Herrion, are experiences like the one he, his wife and sons had one recent evening.
“The sun was setting. The goal was in a parking lot. Two kids—a girl and her little brother–ran out of the apartment building and sat on the curb and waited on us to put up the net so they could play. My wife was asking the girl what she liked in school. We weren’t sure they should be out there alone. But I figure the conversation and the net was a way to say you matter and what you do matters. As we put up the net and drove off, it was dark and they were out there shooting.
“We don’t make a dime and I get no checks from this. But honestly, that little girl looking up at that net was my reward.”