2018 AACSB Influential Leader

Paul Hooker

Paul Hooker

Bowling Green State University, College of Business Administration

United States

Diversity and Inclusion


Founder (Retired President, SFERRA), RallyCap Sports

Paul Hooker raises awareness of the challenges of young athletes with special needs. He has inspired a new generation of citizens by partnering with colleges and universities to match student mentors with people who face disabilities.

Paul Hooker’s commitment to advocating for diversity and inclusion started in 1990, when he was coaching a Little League team in central New Jersey. He noticed a 12-year-old girl from the community sitting in her wheel chair watching her two able-bodied brothers play baseball. He asked her how she was doing and she replied, “This stinks. How come my brothers can play baseball and I can’t?” Hooker pondered her question and thought something indeed should be done about her plight—and that of other youth with special needs who want to enjoy local, recreational sports.

Since that day, Paul and his wife, Margo, have launched a multi-sport program that provides people with disabilities an opportunity to participate in sports, such as soccer, basketball, golf, and flag football. Their efforts over the last 27 years have provided countless opportunities to hundreds of young people, as well as immeasurable support to the friends and families members who care for them.

In 1990, Hooker launched the organization known today as RallyCap Sports, a recreational sports program that provides people with disabilities an opportunity to play sports. Each participant is paired with a volunteer “buddy” for one-on-one interaction that fosters an environment for positive reinforcement and inclusion. In contrast to other organizations like the Special Olympics, RallyCap Sports is less about achieving accolades and more about having fun.

When Hooker wanted to expand the program, he contacted his alma mater, Bowling Green State University (BGSU). Dean of the BGSU College of Business, Ray Braun, introduced Hooker to Luke Sims, a business student specializing in marketing and entrepreneurship, to collaborate in launching the program at the university. Through the program, young people with disabilities were teamed with volunteer buddies, and college students gained an understanding of the challenges that people with disabilities face.

The community response was stellar. Mariana Mitova, whose son Alex is legally blind, said, “This is the most energizing thing I have been a part of in a long time.” Emilie Mullins, whose daughter participated in the program, echoed the excitement and added, “There is nothing like this in the area.”

But these are not the only lives affected. Sims, the student who partnered with Hooker, said, “After working on this project, I have become passionate about helping people with special needs. Our society is so consumed with creating for-profit businesses, but there is room for social entrepreneurship, too.” Hooker and Sims have since expanded RallyCap Sports to more than 10 universities.

In addition to the direct athletics and recreational work done through RallyCap Sports, Hooker has raised more than 200,000 USD for a one-acre playground for children with special needs in Colts Neck, New Jersey, along with a second sensory-rich playground in Long Branch, New Jersey. These facilities provide one of the most fundamental and satisfying needs every child has: the need for play.