By Christine Bryant
After attending a basketball game between Westland and Franklin Heights, Zach Fleer was driving home when he suddenly experienced an epiphany.
As co-owner of 270 Hoops, Fleer had spent the last few years running his media and event organization, which also hosts events like prospect camps and outreach programs.
On his way home from that late fall basketball game last year, Fleer says he was listening to a Bible app in which Matthew 5:14-16 played.
“It was in this passage, that Jesus talks about how a city on a hilltop is not hidden, essentially telling us that we are the light of the world and need to let our good deeds shine,” he said. “It was then that the Lord told me to create a non-profit sports ministry company and direct the majority of my efforts to the Westside.”
In December, he founded 270 Faith, an organization that provides support for underserved athletic programs in central Ohio and offers a safe space for kids to gather and learn basketball skills.
One of his newest projects is the Hoops and Hope program at Westgate Park. The free, open court Bible study program takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. every Thursday now through July.
“We offer free skill development training, competitive games and contests from 4 to 6 p.m. outside on the outdoor courts,” Fleer said.
After that, participants go inside the recreation center and can attend a Bible study discussion and have dinner from 6 to 7 p.m., he said.
“We’ve had two college coaches direct the sessions, as well as South basketball Coach Ramon Spears and iconic retired Westerville South head basketball coach Ed Calo lead the basketball IQ development sessions,” Fleer said.
Any middle or high school student in Columbus can attend, he says.
“Kids do not have to be referred to me,” he said. “They simply have to show up at Westgate Park on Thursdays at 4 p.m. to participate in our program.”
Holding the event outdoors also allows Fleer to invite any kids who may simply be passing by, he says.
“We purposely put it outside so that we can reel in kids who may just be going to the park to play, and instead get a high-quality basketball training workout for free and then dinner for free as well.”
A program like this is vital to children who live on the Westside, especially those who come from challenging circumstances, Fleer says.
“I grew up on the Westside and actually am moving right off Sullivant Avenue in a few weeks,” he said. “My wife and I want to be in the community to love the people there, especially the kids. It’s important for me to be a light for them, to show them a different and better way, and to show them the love that God has for them.”
Fleer is careful not to label kids as “at-risk,” however.
“I use the term ‘at-promise,’ and how I explain that to kids is that they’re in a time in their lives when they have the most promise to control the direction that they go,” he said. “If I can use my platform and the gifts God has given me to help steer them down a healthy path that includes the life-changing relationship with Jesus, then I will have done what God has called me to do.”
For more information on the Hoops and Hope program at Westgate Park, go to 270hoops.com/270faith.