Will Thomas shoots a three-pointer, Saturday, Sept. 1, one of 3,317 he made over the weekend to raise money for the families of service members killed in a helicopter crash last August.
Photo by Alex McVeigh.
McLean Early the morning of Saturday, Sept. 1, the gym at Stone Ridge School in Bethesda was occupied by only one person. Will Thomas, a rising eighth grader at Longfellow Middle School, dribbled his basketball twice, stepped back behind the three-point line and let a shot go. After it hit the front of the rim, popped up and fell through the net, Thomas retrieved his ball and headed back out to the three-point line: one down, 2,600 to go.
Thomas spent the weekend shooting three-pointers as his own personal challenge, part of Operation Hawkeye, an initiative he founded in August of 2011. On Aug. 6, 2011, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, with 30 U.S. military personnel and one service dog among the dead.
"When I heard about the crash, it was such a horrible thing, and it helped me learn about what the Navy SEALs do, and how important their work is to my life," he said. "I was shooting baskets at the time, so I thought trying to help out by shooting might be appropriate."
LAST YEAR, Thomas made 20,000 mid-range jump shots over a 50-hour period, which raised $50,000 for the families of the fallen service members. Since then, Thomas and his father William Thomas have set lofty goals for themselves, aiming to raise $310,000.
The name Hawkeye comes from the dog who famously lay next to his owner, SEAL Jon Tumlinson’s casket.
Thomas made 455 baskets Friday, 1,050 Saturday and 1,010 Sunday and finished shooting on Monday.
"I tried to make a few hundred, then take a break for lunch or some water," Will Thomas said. "I can usually get into a pretty good groove, and by the second or third day, things should go pretty fast."
The shooting portion of the event was called "rise and fire," a phrase used by basketball announcer Gus Johnson, who gave permission for it to be used. They also got support from each NBA team, current and former players and coaches, authors and more to donate items.
"We wrote to a lot of people, who donated a lot of cool items, like a Dwyane Wade signed jersey, a ball signed by the Denver Nuggets, or signed copies of books of several prominent authors," William Thomas, Will’s dad, said.
SINCE LAST YEAR’S EVENT, Will and his dad have been working to recruit sponsors, build a Facebook page and find more ways to build support.
"We definitely wanted to make it more of a national effort, not just a local one," said his dad, William Thomas.
Once the group meets their goal of raising $310,000, they will begin giving away the donated items. They will also give away items when they reach 31,000 fans on Facebook.
They have also garnered support from businesses, both local and national, accepting donations or publicity.
The Facebook page also contains a link for those who are unable to donate money, but wish to support the cause. Users can send a message to the families of one of the fallen service members, or send one to all the families. The families are able to log on a secure website to see the messages.
"We obviously didn’t want to violate anyone’s privacy, but we wanted the people who support this cause to be able to voice that, and they’re not just dropping a bottle into the ocean, this will be seen by the families," William Thomas said. "We tried to make a setup that allowed anyone with an internet connection to be able to support the cause in one way."
More information can be found at www.facebook.com/operationhawkeye.