A discussion about retirement and what lay ahead prompted Jen Anthony to ask her new husband what he would do with his free time if he could do anything in the world with it.

His response? Replace old basketball hoop nets at public parks with new ones.

So she created a nonprofit, and on his 52nd birthday presented him with the binder of legal documents that would allow him to do just that.

Nets on the Run is now in its 15th year of replacing old nets, cleaning up San Antonio-area parks and renovating public sports equipment.

“It drives me nuts to go by a court and see broken rims or no nets hanging or anything like that,” said Lee Anthony, the recipient of his wife’s nonprofit gift. “And for anyone who plays on the public courts, a new net can be a big deal.”

Anthony, a 66-year-old Air Force veteran who served for 23 years, has always been an avid basketball fan. Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book The Tipping Point, he said he realized that small acts of kindness — like making sure public basketball facilities look inviting — can make a big difference in people’s lives and community.

Jen Anthony, co-founder of Nets on the Run, installs a new soccer net at Woodstone Elementary School on Saturday.
Jen Anthony, co-founder of Nets on the Run, installs a new soccer net at Woodstone Elementary School on Saturday. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

The Anthonys hope that by replacing basketball nets, resurfacing courts and cleaning up parks, they can inspire more kids to get out from behind the screens of electronic devices and enjoy the outdoors.

For some kids, “that’s their only hope to get out of a bad situation — sports,” Jen Anthony said. “It’s surprising how kids will just get so excited when they have a brand new net or you know, parents feel better about letting their kids play in an area that looks nice.”

The couple started by simply driving around San Antonio on the weekends to identify public parks in disrepair, Lee Anthony said. That occasionally meant jumping a fence or two, his wife added with a laugh. These days, the couple works with the City of San Antonio to identify where the need is.

One of the Anthony’s neighbors is George Block, a prominent swim coach after whom the Northside Independent School District natatorium is named. He heard about what the couple was doing and reached out to San Antonio Sports, another local nonprofit, to see if it wanted to work with Nets on the Run.

In addition to hosting large events like the NCAA Final Four, San Antonio Sports partners with local schools and school districts to make public school playgrounds more open and accessible to local residents. After Block facilitated the introduction, San Antonio Sports began letting Nets on the Run know when a school playground is in need of a facelift.

“Since then, it’s just been a great relationship,” Jen Anthony said.

In recent years, the couple and an ever-growing team of volunteers have ventured outside of San Antonio, too. They spend roughly three months a year in Panama, where they’ve also started helping improve sports facilities.

“We’ve been replacing soccer nets, and the kids will play for like 10 to 12 hours a day. That’s their play for the day,” Lee Anthony said.

He said one of the best things about their small and simple nonprofit is how far donations go. “You can hang a lot of basketball nets for $1,000,” he said.

The couple said there’s still plenty of work to be done in San Antonio. Recently, their focus has shifted to the quickly growing sport of pickleball, a cross between ping pong and tennis. In addition to replacing basketball nets, the couple hopes to help the sport of pickleball grow.

“While our city does an amazing job with outdoor recreation and has done so much with the trail system here — it’s the nicest I’ve seen of anywhere I’ve lived — there aren’t very many public [sports] courts here,” Anthony said. “So we’re hoping to help that expand. You know, every dollar we can save the city is money that can go into other things the community needs.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.