Monkton teen designs basketball shoe to honor friend's memory

In their younger years, best friends, David Serra, left, and Riley Davis, mug for the camera. (Photo courtesy David Serra / June 4, 2012)

David Serra and Riley Davis loved to get on the court and shoot hoops. The teens had been friends since first grade at Jacksonville Elementary School.

But it wasn't till Riley, of Jacksonsville, died in December at age 13 after four years of fighting leukemia that David learned Riley had always dreamed of creating a basketball shoe.

It was during a memorial service for Riley Jan. 3, 2012, that David had an idea about how to honor his basketball buddy and friend.

"Riley was this ball of sunshine and energy," said David, 14, of Monkton, a rising ninth-grader at Hereford Middle School. "He was always smiling. I knew I had to make his basketball shoes."


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He knew, too, that he needed some adult help to get his project literally off on the right foot.

"David came up to me right after Riley's service and said, 'I want to do that for Riley'," said Melissa Serra, David's mother. "I never, ever thought it would happen, but I didn't tell David that."

A friend suggested Melissa Serra contact Under Armour, so she asked her son to write up a request. She then emailed the request to Jed Jecelin, director of brand content at the Baltimore Under Armour facility.

"Every 13-year-old has a dream. No child should have to die before seeing his dream come true," David wrote to Jecelin. "With your help, we can make Riley's dream come true and share Riley's story with the whole country so everyone can know of this amazing kid."

It didn't take Jecelin long to agree to the project.

"I was very touched by Riley's spirit and by David's commitment," he said. "I personally felt this needed to happen. In our hearts, our team wanted to do this."

David came up with a personalized shoe design and after touring Under Armour's facility sat down with designers.

Riley often wore a T-shirt that read, "Can't Stop Me," so David put that slogan in a red stop sign on the shoe's side.

His nickname was "Sunny D" for his bright personality, so David drew a yellow sun with those words in red on the heel.

Riley loved the beach, so David drew wavy lines along the sides to symbolize the ocean.

He loved his dog, "Suede," so part of the shoe is made from suede material.

Riley was a huge Eagles fan, so the shoe is Eagle green and black.

And Riley won the "Bulldog" award in fifth-grade at Jacksonville for showing strength in adversity, so "Bulldog" is written on the Velcro strap over the laces.

After Riley's memorial service, David and his friends released balloons with pennies inside them. David announced then that now, whenever anyone spotted a penny on the ground, they could pick it up and think of Riley. So the soles of the shoes are imbedded with pennies.

When the Under Armour designers learned David and Riley used to ride golf carts at Hunt Valley Golf Club where Riley's father is general manager, so the course layout was printed on the shoe's insole.

Jecelin said the crew speeded up production of Riley's shoe and it was done in two months.

The Baltimore sportswear company produced two pairs and presented one pair to David, his parents Melissa and Derick, and sister, Morgan, 17 at a May 17 company celebration at the Inner Harbor.

Riley's parents, John and Mary, and his 15-year-old brother, Cole, received the other pair.

"The whole day was completely overwhelming," said Mary Davis. "It was unforgettable and inspiring to me. It was just one example of what great friends Riley had."

The shoes are a size 9, too small for David to wear. For now, he and the Davis family keep the shoes in engraved containers created by Under Armour.

Jecelin said the shoe was created to pay tribute to Riley through David.

"Our purpose was never to commercialize them," he said.

David brought the shoes into school one day, "and everybody said they wanted to buy a pair," he said. "I think Under Armour would sell a lot of these if they wanted to."