Slam dunk North Attleboro Hoops

North Attleboro Middle School in Massachusetts broke a record this year for Hoops for Heart by surpassing a cumulative $1 million for the American Heart Association and drawing the attention of the New England Patriots.

The school, which has boasted the No. 1 fundraising title for Hoops for Heart for the last 13 years, is the first school to ever raise $1 million. About 9,200 schools participate in the event nationwide. North Attleboro also broke the record for the most money raised in a single campaign for Hoops or Jump Rope For Heart — more than $109,000 and still counting.

Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft and players Jonas Gray and Patrick Chung surprised the kids with a special appearance and gave them a signed 2015 Super Bowl football. Kraft pledged to match their day-of-event fundraising up to $7,500.

“It’s a huge community-based project that takes on a life of its own,” said Jason Feid, North Attleboro physical education coordinator and American Heart Association affiliate board member. “When you start to educate not just kids in the school but also the community, it turns out much bigger than you could’ve possibly imagined.”

Feid, who runs the event with John Dempsey and two other physical education teachers, said Hoops For Heart helps raise money to help fight heart disease and stroke, but it also teaches children about leadership, devotion and community service.

The school started shooting hoops for a cause in 1999. Thirty students raised $630. That first year, they just played basketball, but organizers realized they’d need to hook the kids who aren’t into sports. Over the years they started building a “carnival atmosphere.”

The fun caught on. The next year, they raised more than $2,700 and became the No. 1 school in Massachusetts. And in 2001, at the event’s peak, 90 percent (1003 students) stayed after school to participate.

Now local businesses get in on the action, which features an obstacle course, karaoke, donated food and fitness challenges, Feid said. This year a 24-year-old stroke survivor talked to the students and about 865 out of 1,100 kids participated. That’s a slight drop that Feid attributes to busy schedules.

“We’re trying to educate the kids to be fit and active and healthy,” Feid said. “The most important thing is that everyone has fun — it’s the place everyone wants to be.”

The school’s don’t-settle-for-second spirit helps lead to their success.

Last year after raising $96,926, they upped their goal. “It’s not just the kids, but the community as a whole. They really want the kids to reach that million-dollar mark,” Feid said. “We knew it was reachable.”

Feid said the children are reminded that heart disease doesn’t discriminate. When they are asked to raise their hands if they know someone who has been touched by heart disease, almost every hand goes up.

“It’s breathtaking when you look out in the crowd and the kids say, ‘wow, I’m not the only one.’”