By Joseph Pratt
Even the rain knows the importance of the Annual Steven A. Hunter Tennis Tournament, which had a mostly dry series this weekend, as the rain stopped just long enough for the games to commence.
Funds raised by the tournament will go towards benefiting the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund, an organization dedicated to the betterment of the lives of children.
The group is named in honor of founders Mark and Virgie Hunter’s late son, Steven Hunter. Mark describes Steven’s charisma and energy as one that was contagious in the desire to help others. The proud parents started the organization in Portsmouth High School alone, but quickly grew to the entire district and soon grew to surrounding schools. Today, the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund has programming to clothe students, assist in dental and eye exams, provide scholarships, feed children and more.
The focus of the Hope Fund has definitely become the food program that feeds local children who are labeled as being possibly food insecure by school staff members. They currently serve over 750 students in two counties.
In Ohio, 44 percent of children live in families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price school meals. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity, more than one in four Ohio children do not always know where their next meal will come from. These numbers are why Mark and Virgie Hunter began pursuing the challenge with such force with the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund and their Power Packs.
The “Power Packs” are packaged boxes of food for a child in need to take home with them over the weekend. The concept was based off the idea that some kids might not get enough to eat over the course of the weekend, when they are not in school.
Executive Director of the Hope Fund Mark Hunter explained that this year stands as a cornerstone in the development of the tournament, because it marks the crossing of $100,000 raised since the event’s inception only nine years ago.
Also, the event raised over $20,000 in one year, which hasn’t been done.
Hunter said that there are many regular performers that return every year to play and make everything happen. One of the repeat players is Rick Porter, who has played in around five tournaments. Hunter said that the tournament means so much to Porter that he returned from North Carolina to compete.
“The tournament has gone wonderfully,” Hunter said. “We were a little cautious about the weather, but the rain held off. We were able to have a full day of play. We had a lot of great players having fun; there was definitely some good spirit on the courts.”
Local Jim Daehler is the co-coordinator of the event and the scorekeeper. He reflected on the success, saying it has grown into something he never expected.
“I remember our first year, when we only made $1,500 and we were so happy and excited for just that,” Daehler recalled. “It has grown into something so much more and I am grateful to be a part of it.”
Daehler has a long history of working with the Hunters, since he was Steven’s tennis coach. He continues his support of the program to assist the mission of the Hope Fund and to honor the memory of someone who was very close to him to him.
“We just loved Steven,” Daehler said. “We was like a second son to us. It is an honor and a thrill to be involved in the tournament. Steven was a very special person who touched many lives and we are continuing that.”
Portsmouth High School Athletic Director Joe Albrecht was present another year, saying he has many reasons to play and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I feel that anything raising money for Mark and Virgie’s fund raiser is worth it. The Hunters have been so tireless in their efforts to feed the children of Southern Ohio. I simply loved Steven Hunter; he was one of the finest and most spirited young men to ever grace the halls of Portsmouth High School,” Albrecht said. “It warms my heart to talk with Mark about Steven. He will never be forgotten. As long as I can walk, I will play and support this Tournament dedicated in Steven’s name.”
Hunter says the need for the event is dire, especially with the organization growing so much and having a yearly budget of nearly $100,000. He was thrilled with the success of this year’s matches, saying that he had over 40 players, over 20 teams, over 60 sponsors and raised $20,500. The money raised will go towards purchasing 33,000 Power Packs, roughly 140,000 meals.
Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.