June 11, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Ten Iraqi girls basketball players are currently at the University of Tennessee and attending the Lady Vols basketball camp as part of a program that helps promote peace through sports.
The team's trip was made possible by SportsUnited, a U.S. Department of State program, in partnership with Sport4Peace/Global Sports Partners and the NBA.
"SportsUnited's focus is on sports, and how success in sports can lead to success in other life areas, academics being one of them. We do a lot of programs all over the world and we were very happy when we were approached by Global Sports Partners to do this program with Iraq. We are very happy with the girls that are here and I think that they have had a great program," said Beth Fine of SportsUnited.
The idea to host the girls was born after Sport 4 Peace conducted an Olympic basketball training camp for girls and women in Sulaimaniya, Iraq, last July. It was the first girls and women's basketball training camp in nearly 35 years. Upon returning to Knoxville, Sport 4 Peace drafted a proposal to bring a team of aspiring Iraqi girls basketball players to the campus of the University of Tennessee to attend Pat Summitt's Basketball Camp. Sport 4 Peace traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with SportsUnited which embraced the proposed project and agreed to partner with Sport 4 Peace.
"One day at camp last year, we spread the girls out, gave them blank 4x6 note cards and said `please write down your biggest dream'. Each one wrote down that her dream was to visit the United States of America, to attend a WNBA game and to meet Coach Pat Summitt and tell her `thank you for the video, the basketballs and the message she has sent us'. Today, you are seeing the reality of these girls achieving their dream," said UT doctoral student Sarah Hillyer, a co-founder of Sport 4 Peace.
The players arrived in Washington, D.C., on June 3 and spent several days with a full activities calendar in the nation's capital including visiting local schools, a soccer practice for mentally and physically disabled children, the Smithsonian, and a WNBA practice and game before traveling to Knoxville to attend Pat Summitt's basketball camps. While in Knoxville, the girls will have an opportunity to tour the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, hike in the Smoky Mountains, and visit local homes for dinner and entertainment.
"One thing, from my standpoint and our staff, we wanted to give these young girls the opportunity to see the opportunities we have here in the States for young girls and young women, and hopefully teach them life skills through the game of basketball," said Lady Vol Head Coach Pat Summitt.
UT students Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman have been around the world conducting camps and researching the impact of sport. They are committed to providing healthy, fun and safe sporting opportunities for women and girls.
Sport 4 Peace, an organization created by two doctoral students at the University of Tennessee to further their research into sport as an instrument for peace, is hosting the girls and their coaches. The organization is committed to providing new, healthy, fun, and safe sporting opportunities for Iraqi girls and women. Following the "Iraq to America" project, Sport 4 Peace will return to Iraq in July 2009 to hold the second annual basketball camp for girls, women, and coaches.
This year's trip includes 10 girls ages 14-16 from across Iraq and three coaches. The players were selected to represent different regions, religions and socioeconomic status plus leadership qualities, positive attitude and a spirit of solidarity. Some of the girls attended the camp in Iraq last year.
"It is a dream for me. I cannot believe that I am here and speaking with you. My players are playing on the courts in America and it is just like a dream," said Rizgar, the team's head coach. "I hope that this continues and goes along. I hope that other people, not only me, can come here and share their dreams just like I did."
For more information about Sport 4 Peace, visit here.
For more information about SportsUnited, visit here.
For more information about last year's camp in Iraq, visit here.