March - April 2015 in Knoxville, Tennessee and Tampa, Florida

Multi-Nation Basketball Sports Visitors Program

The program consisted of 25 participants, including five coaches, representing five Eastern European nations: Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Georgia and Poland.

The first portion of the program took place in Knoxville, where the girls participated in cultural activities and basketball sessions at a number of locations, including the University of Tennessee, Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge, Bearden High School and Jefferson County High School. In addition to physical training with UT Athletics Strength & Conditioning staff, Center for Sport, Peace, & Society co-directors Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman led classroom sessions for the group focused on the Strong Women.Better World. curriculum. At theWomen’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the girls also learned about the history of women’s basketball and heard from two-time Olympic swimmer Kate Ziegler, who spoke about facing challenges, fighting for their dreams, and defining success by giving it their best, not looking at the scoreboard.

No exchange program is complete without a meaningful service project, and this year’s Multi-Nation Basketball group traveled to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where they worked with Wafloy Mountain Retreat to clean up the areas around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for students and visitors.

Following five days in Knoxville, the delegation traveled south to Tampa where they watched the NCAA Women’s Final Four. On their first full day, the girls participated in the NCAA 4Kay Run, an event held to promote women’s cancer awareness in honor of former University of North Carolina basketball coach Kay Yow. Afterward, as part of the International Day of Sport for Peace and Development, the group designed “white cards” highlighting the issues they aim to address upon return to their home countries, from homelessness to peacekeeping.

On the third day, the team ventured to Bradenton, Florida, home of IMG Academy, a private athletic training institute for youth, high school, collegiate and professional athletes. Shell Dailey, coordinator of the women’s basketball program and former WNBA and NCAA Division 1 coach, invited the players to join her and her staff for a practice with the IMG girls basketball team. The two-hour session provided a great opportunity for the Sports Visitors to learn from a woman who has coached and developed more than 50 WNBA players, in addition to 20-plus USA Basketball and Olympic players.

The exciting experience at IMG was followed by a short trip to Anna Maria Island, where the girls took in Florida’s beautiful gulf coast. They then traveled back to Tampa where they visited All People’s Life Center (APLC), a recreation center operated by the Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation Department that specializes in serving people with disabilities.  While at the Center, the participants learned about adaptive sports, and also participated in a game of wheel-chair basketball with members of the APLC basketball team.

Despite originally thinking that teenage girls were incapable of making a big difference, by the end of the two-week program the girls expressed a renewed sense of hope, confidence, and ability to make social change through basketball.