July 25, 2013 12:36:28 PM
Columbus Walmart General Manager Ernest Robinson dreamed big when he put together the Hoops for Troops basketball project.
As the fourth annual event is set to begin at 8 a.m. Saturday at Columbus High School, those big dreams are becoming reality.
"The event has grown every year and we are really proud of that," Robinson said. "The first year we raised a modest $3,000. Now, our goal is to raise $10,000. That is the type of growth we have had, and we are proud of that."
Seven teams have already entered the double-elimination exhibition tournament field, and Robinson hopes three more teams, which will match last season's 10-team event, which was played at Caledonia High.
"We have some giveaways planned," Robinson said. "We will sell raffle tickets for some great prizes, maybe even a TV. We will have refreshments. For the first time we will be selling rib plates, to go along with hamburgers and hot dogs."
Proceeds from the event go to the Family Readiness Group of the Mississippi National Guard. This group provides counseling and supplies, as well as helping take care of the other needs for family members of guard members who are sent overseas and deployed. Last year, $7,500 was raised to assist family members of the Columbus 114th A-Battery Strike unit.
"This is a chance to give back to the community," Robinson said. "It is our way to do something to say thank you to the young men and women for what they do to give us our freedom. It is great that the community has stepped in and helped build this event."
Walmart is the corporate sponsor of the tournament. The Columbus store and the Starkville store will have teams entered in the competition. In addition, dozens of Walmart employees will work the tournament.
"Walmart has always taken pride in reaching out to the community," Robinson said. "We will have a host of our workers taking part in the event, everything from playing in the tournament to helping run the concessions. Walmart always tries to take a leadership role in these types of projects.
"We have had a great relationship with the National Guard. This is a small way to help give back to all they do for us."
Admission for the entire day will be $3. For more information on providing a team for one of the tournament's final spots, contact Robinson or Candi Blaylock at 329-4810. The deadline for entering is noon Friday.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter