LAGUNA HILLS : Shoes Will Aid African Ballplayers

Most of the latest brand names are there, in various stages of repair.

Reebok, L.A. Gear, Adidas, maybe even a Converse or two. Then there are tank tops, T-shirts and shorts. All in different sizes, but mostly apropos for the elementary school set.

This assortment of used athletic wear has been arranged in boxes in Chris Appel's office, awaiting forwarding to Africa--Mali, to be exact, a country near the continent's Gold Coast.

Appel, the principal of Lomarena Elementary School, hopes to fill a need he could not help but notice last summer in Bamako, Mali.

Appel, a former USC All-American basketball player, gave up a shot at professional basketball and has spent his last 25 summers traveling the world teaching basketball fundamentals under the auspices of the U.S. State Department.

Shoes come before fundamentals, however, Appel said.

"During our first session I looked at the kids' feet and thought, 'How can I make these kids run?' Most of the kids were wearing plastic sandals or no shoes at all, just bare feet," Appel said. "There were a total of 10 sandals or grubby shoes for 38 youngsters. That just doesn't make it in basketball."

When Appel returned home, he appealed to the 700 students at Lomarena. The result of that appeal filled the three cardboard boxes. He figures he collected 60 to 70 pairs of shoes, more than 100 pairs of shorts and about 80 T-shirts and tank tops.

"These will go over very big over there," Appel said.

Appel, 47, has taken his coaching clinic to Southeast Asia, the Soviet Union and nearly every country where French is spoken. He has spent the last three summers in Africa, where he has made enough of an impact to be named a "Friend of Africa" by Africa's Ivorian Basketball Assn. His clinics have been featured on African television and newspapers.

Basketball has become popular throughout Africa, due at least in part to the success of professionals Akeem Olajuwon and Manute Bol. By American standards, however, African basketball facilities are still primitive, Appel said. Players use asphalt or clay courts.

But a large group of Africans soon won't be playing without shoes, shorts or shirts.

"The kids over there will love these shoes, thanks to the generosity of our student body," Appel said.

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