LAS VEGAS – Florida football players piled out of a van on a cool, sunny Tuesday morning at CP Squires Elementary School. A 6-foot man in size 15 sneakers and his wife were the first people they met.
Nikki and Tony Berti founded what is now known as the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation 19 years ago. The non-profit organization provides shoes and socks throughout the school year to underprivileged children in Southern Nevada.
The group of Gators defensive players arrived as part of a charity event hosted by the Las Vegas Bowl. After a brief introduction, the players knew why they were there and got to work.
The defenses Jason Marshall Jr., Trey Dean III and Rashad Torrence II took a seat at the autograph table. Linebackers Amari Burney, Scooby Williams and Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. he played football and soccer with the children on a field. Playing defense Gervon Dexter Sr., housed by a mountain of soccer balls, handed them out as Christmas presents. Meanwhile, the place of defense Chris McClellanLike Tony Berti who plants his feet in 15 shoes, he helped the children while choosing new shoes.
As Nikki Berti ran around the field with her camera to document the event, her husband reflected on how a Thursday morning two days before Florida faced Oregon State meant so much to the local community and the Berti family.
It all started in the mid-1990s for Berti, a member of Colorado’s 1990 national championship team and the starting left tackle who helped pave the way for 1994 Heisman Trophy-winning running back Rashaan Salaam, an NFL rookie with San Diego.
Veteran offensive lineman Stan Brock, who also played in college at Colorado, took Berti under his wing. Brock participated in community events with the Chargers and led Berti to a team-sponsored Payless Shoe Drive.
“It affected me and my wife,” Berti said. “We loved it. It was one of my favorite events. That event resonated and stayed with us when we retired in Vegas.”
In 2003, Nikki and Tony created a similar event in Las Vegas. That became the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation, which now hosts about 25 to 27 events per school year. Today the organization operates out of a specially built tractor-trailer and has served more than 130,000 children over the past two decades.
The organization began partnering with the Las Vegas Bowl in 2009. The event is one of the biggest of the annual festivities, and players from Florida and Oregon State participated on Thursday. Berti takes great pride in the fact that not only do the kids get a new pair of shoes, they are measured on site and they choose their shoes from racks that include all the popular brands.
Approximately 400 children received new shoes at Thursday’s event.
“I probably grew up one of the kids we were going to serve,” said Tony Berti, who grew up in Denver. “My parents didn’t have a lot of money. It was hard for my parents to get new shoes. These kids choose their own shoes. For some of them, that’s good because some kids don’t choose what they eat, what they wear. They get a lot of hand-me-downs they have
“It’s very rewarding. Shoes are a status symbol, and the ability to choose your own pair of shoes is great. These kids aren’t just given a pair of shoes.”
Berti, who played four seasons with the Chargers and six in the NFL until injuries forced him out of the game, took the stage as the players and kids mingled.
Burney looked like the kid was having as much fun as he was throwing a football around. He related to the kids because he remembered going to a community service event attended by former Gators wide receiver Louis Murphy.
Murphy, a former UF wide receiver, is from St. Petersburg, where Burney grew up.
“It was a special memory. It gave me an insight into what it’s like to be a Florida Gator,” Burney said. “It’s a great experience to come out here and put a smile on these kids’ faces. They look at us like heroes.
“Kids see you on TV, and they see you as untouchable, and then when you come out here, they’re like, ‘oh, he’s just like us.’ A kid there told me he plays receiver. He wanted to channel me a little bit and he wanted to do it all at once.” .
Berti also had a smile on her face.
“It’s a lot of fun for the kids,” she said. “They get to meet these varsity athletes. Sometimes these varsity athletes inspire more than the kids. It’s really fun to watch.”
An hour later, as the Gators’ timeout expired, Nikki Bertik thanked the players for coming out and told them she was born in Sarasota and a native Floridian. Several of his relatives went to UF.
A couple of Gators joked that they’d better be rooting for them on Saturday.
And then they piled into the van to drive around town. They trained in a couple of hours, so it was back to normal routine.
But like hundreds of kids with new sneakers, they had a fond memory to take with them.
“I always like to give back to the community, especially to underprivileged kids,” McClellan said. “I like to go out and give them a good role model to look up to. When I was younger, my school used to do things like this. Now it’s really cool to be a part of it.”
Did McClellan distribute any size 15 measurements?
“They didn’t have my size up there.”