Nothing but net: ETSU hits the court for Finnegan’s Challenge

Published 5:16 pm Wednesday, November 3, 2021

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Doc Sander, former ETSU athletic director, to participate in 24-hour free throw competition

JOHNSON CITY — Seventy-five-year-old Richard “Doc” Sander, former athletic director at East Tennessee State University, will attempt to exceed 3,300 free throws during Finnegan’s Challenge, a 24-hour free throw competition in Brooks Gym on Nov. 4 starting at 8 a.m.

A celebrity free throw challenge will begin at 7 p.m., with tickets on sale for $10 per person, $20 per family, and free to ETSU students with a valid student ID. The entire 24-hour event will be livestreamed on Facebook at

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Every year 120,000 children are born with birth defects, which cause one in five deaths during the first year of life. One child out of 33 is born with a birth defect, a fact that Doc Sander highlights with his free throw goal: 3,300.

The 24-hour event is named after Sander’s grandson, Finnegan Sander, who was born with a condition called imperforate anus. Twenty-four hours after his birth, Finnegan had already received his first surgery to save his life. In three months, he had a second surgery, followed four months later by his third surgery. When a child is born with a birth defect every four and a half minutes, surgical costs can greatly impact the lives of children and their loved ones, dramatically impacting the life path of an entire family.

“ETSU is honored to host Finnegan’s Challenge on our campus,” said Brian Noland, ETSU president. “Our institution was founded on a mission of putting people first and helping them realize their dreams, and Finnegan’s Challenge is perfectly aligned with our mission. By supporting families as they navigate the challenges presented by birth defects and other adverse childhood events, we help ensure that those children and their families have brighter days ahead of them. The Sander family is dear to our university, and we hope that everyone in the ETSU family and across the region supports and becomes involved in this challenge.”

Finnegan’s Challenge is the initial event to create resources to support families like Finnegan’s who are impacted by the struggles associated with birth defects. This initiative will create a much-needed support system for families of children with special needs, and proceeds will not go to Finnegan or his family.

This challenge will bring supporters together online, challenging them to donate for every free throw they make. Participants can upload their videos to social media with the hashtag #FinnegansChallenge to show their support and highlight the need for resources for children and families affected by the challenges associated with birth defects.

“When Finnegan came into the world, my entire outlook on life was impacted,” Doc Sander said. “Because of Finnegan’s birth defect, we witnessed firsthand how dramatically the life path of an entire family would be totally affected. We had not thought about how emotional stress, worry and trauma surrounding issues of the birth defect would impact the family of that child. That is why we have created Finnegan’s Challenge to develop a community of support and resources to help families navigate through these challenges.”

Jimmy Sander, Finnegan’s father, realized there were no centralized resources to help families like his own that are navigating these challenges. Jimmy has a master’s in business administration and 10 years of agency experience before entering the technology field. To support his son and follow his vision, Jimmy stepped down from his job to create For Our Kids Project, a 501-(c)(3) pending non-profit that makes Finnegan’s Challenge possible.

Together with celebrity and industry partners, Finnegan’s Challenge is creating an ecosystem of awareness and hub of resources for parents, teachers, therapists and others who care for children with birth defects. These resources provide the necessary tools a child’s support team needs to ensure their success.

“Finnegan’s Challenge is obviously a very passionate project for me and my family,” Jimmy Sander said. “We are committed to using our story, knowledge and experience to help individuals and families that face adversity. We want to help them overcome the doubt, anxiety and stress associated with their situation while giving them resources to create a positive life path for the future.”

Sheex, the world’s first performance bedding sheets, has signed on as national sponsor of Finnegan’s Challenge. The history of Sheex is rooted in basketball with founders Susan Walvius and Michelle Marciniak being former NCAA Division 1 athletes and coaches. Sheex will donate a portion of all sales when the promo code “FINNEGAN” is used at checkout.

The event is free, open to the public and everyone is invited to attend. Face masks are required indoors on the ETSU campus. Donations can be made through the For Our Kids Project website at All proceeds will help For Our Kids Project create and provide resources for children with birth defects and their families.

About Finnegan’s Challenge
Finnegan’s Challenge is a campaign by For Our Kids Project to create an ecosystem of awareness for parents, teachers and therapists of children born with birth defects. Through donations, Finnegan’s Challenge can make a difference in the lives of families that face adversity due to the struggles associated with birth defects. Learn more about Finnegan’s Challenge at