WASHINGTON &

Beaumont Gassama has big feet. The 13-year-old seems to outgrow his shoes almost as fast as he laces them up. He's now wearing size 14.




It's the same story for the rest of his Arlington, Va., basketball team. So the players decided to put their growth spurts to good use and donate their slightly worn athletic shoes to kids in Africa.




In a little more than a month, they have collected more than 400 pairs, including some given by friends and neighbors.




"When they found out what we were doing, they thought it was really cool," Beaumont said, explaining the project's fast-break success.




It was their coach's idea. Kenny Robinson had read about an organization that delivers shoes to children in Zimbabwe and South Africa. He was struck by the image of kids in Africa playing basketball without shoes.




Robinson said he wanted his kids to realize "that no matter how little they think they have over here, they have a whole lot more than kids over there."




Robinson is a coach for Beyond the Hoop, a three-team basketball program he helped start for boys ages 10 to 14. Players are expected to work as hard on their homework and community-service projects as they do on their basketball skills.




The kids in the program started collecting sneakers and cleats in mid-August. The players will continue accepting shoes through Oct. 15.




The kids are writing notes to tuck inside each pair for the next wearer to read.




Rajee Dunbar, 13, said he wrote, "just wear them and have fun in them, because that's what I did."




The shoe drive has the Virginia kids thinking about how fortunate they are &

just as their coach had hoped.




"There are kids in Africa who don't have shoes, and there are kids in Arlington who have three or four pairs and don't need them as much," said Patrick Ryan, 13.




The teams hopes to collect 100 more pairs in the next two weeks and then send all the shoes to Hoops 4 Hope, the group that Robinson had read about. Hoops 4 Hope will ship the shoes from New York to Africa.




Justin Glenn, 13, has seen how well kids in Africa play basketball and thinks their moves would be even better if some of them weren't barefoot.




"I would love to see how they play with shoes," he said. "Their basketball careers shouldn't be wasted because of a pair of shoes."