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REGGIE HAYES: What’s the story on former Indiana University star Yogi Ferrell coming to Bluffton High School?

Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell passes during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Dana Hoopingarner

When I heard former Indiana University star Yogi Ferrell will run a basketball camp at Bluffton High School next week, my first question was “Why Bluffton?” There’s no obvious connection.

Turns out, it’s quite the tale of a new connection:

Dana Hoopingarner was on the phone, discussing a potential opportunity to write another children’s book when her husband Rick overheard her mention a familiar name.

One of Dana’s friends had heard Ferrell and his father, Kevin Ferrell Sr., were looking for an author to help write an inspirational children’s book series based on Yogi’s experiences. The friend passed along Dana’s business card and it was forwarded to Ferrell Sr.

Ferrell Sr. called Hoopingarner and said he was interested in talking with her.

“I’m asking him what he would like the book to be about and he says, ‘My son plays basketball. He’s really good. He used to play at IU. Are you familiar with Yogi?’ ” Hoopingarner said. “I said, ‘No, Mr. Ferrell, I’m not.’ Rick peeks his head in and says, ‘Who are you talking to?’ ”

Dana gets off the phone and Rick asks if she was indeed talking with someone about Yogi Ferrell. “Yes, he said he plays in Dallas somewhere?” Dana replied.

“Yes, the Mavericks. He plays for the Mavericks,” Rick said.

“What does that mean?” Dana replied.

“It means this is kind of a big deal.”

In a follow-up interview, Dana Hoopingarner stopped Ferrell Sr., and said, “I need to be honest. I did not know who Yogi was but I will get up to speed on him.” Ferrell Sr. told her they actually liked the fact she was interested in the potential content of the book rather than Yogi’s sports notoriety.

When she later ended up on a conference call with Yogi upon being offered the job to write the first book, Yogi said he hoped she had learned a little bit more about him.

“I told him, ‘I know you have a cat named Bubbles and can do a handstand,’ ” she said.

Needless to say, Yogi doesn’t always get that particular response. “For being at the level he’s at, he’s the most relational person,” Hoopingarner said. “It’s just like you’ve known him all your life.”

Here’s where Bluffton comes in.

Hoopingarner and her family have lived in the Bluffton area their whole lives. Her now-grown children were students and athletes at Norwell. She worked in the preschool/vocational program at Norwell and later founded Jericho Advanced Training Center for Ministry, a Christian-based preschool now in its 10th year. She has written three other children’s books, the “Stinky Feet” series.

At a meeting with Ferrell Sr., Hoopingarner – who combines a positive outlook with a tremendous gift for conversation – planted a seed.

“I said, ‘I know some Wells County kids, if you guys ever come this way, who would love to have you here,’ ” Hoopingarner said. “Everybody laughed. I mentioned it a couple more times and finally, I said, ‘Yogi’s coming to Bluffton. I can tell (it will happen).’ Kevin Sr. said, ‘Dana, now Dana.’ But I was feeling good about that seed.”

Sure enough, about three weeks later, Ferrell Sr. called her and said they wanted to come.

Bluffton boys basketball coach Chris Benedict was on a trip to Alaska, so Hoopingarner called Bluffton superintendent Wayne Barker, a former Bluffton coach, to see how she could get something set up.

The quick summary: Barker got the ball rolling in every possible way and Benedict jumped on board when he returned. The camp will incorporate coaches and players from Bluffton, Norwell and Southern Wells. It was close to full as of late this week.

Hoopingarner emphasizes a large number of Bluffton businesses have come on board to support the camp and she is excited about the three county high schools working together.

Next Thursday, Yogi Ferrell will have about 100 basketball players, boys and girls, fourth through 12th grade, to share some skills and some inspiration.

“Yogi’s a self-made player, so to speak, and I’m excited for our kids to hear from him and understand that,” Benedict said. “Here’s an undersized guy who has made a living in basketball because of his unbelievable skills and his passion for the game. He’s worked extremely hard to make himself an NBA player. It will be good for our kids to hear his message.”

Hoopingarner said the Ferrells hope to use their children’s book series to offer inspiration to younger kids.

Yogi Ferrell’s heart for children is apparent in talking with him and his father, Hoopingarner said. At the end of the regular camp, Yogi will put on a mini-camp program for special needs children, something he specifically requested.

Hoopingarner hopes to continue the children’s book partnership with the Ferrells, but for now she is contracted only for the first book.

Yogi Ferrell coming to Bluffton is a nice, unexpected bonus.

“He doesn’t come often to a small town,” Hoopingarner said. “For him to come here because of an author and doing something nice for the kids, that just shows his heart.”

Looking for an NBA player to root for? Talk to Hoopingarner. She has a persuasive story for you.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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