April 2013 in Knoxville, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana

Multi-Nation Basketball Sports Visitors Program

Basketball unites cultures around the world once again. This time with 24 girls and their coaches from Liberia, Lithuania, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Venezuela, who traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee and New Orleans from April 1-10, 2013.

On Rocky Top, the girls trained with Allison Maurer (nutrition) and Holly Frantz (strength and conditioning) of University of Tennessee Athletics, participated in team building exercises with therapeutic recreation students, and met U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who was kind enough to greet each of them after his speech and pose for a photograph.

The girls also spent several hours at Jefferson County High School on the court and in classrooms, where they discussed the discipline and work ethic required to play sports and study in their countries with students.

“It’s very different,” said Astrid, one of the participants from Venezuela. “In my country, you play, but they don’t encourage like here… My coach tell me ‘this is a great opportunity, I hope that you can do something one day here.”

The program is not only geared to expose the visitors to the opportunities for athletes in the U.S., but to equip and empower them to take some of these ideas and turn them into action plans in their countries. One of these sessions was dedicated to body image, led by UK Professor Samaya Farooq Samie. Groups were divided by country and asked to discuss “beauty” in their cultures – and they discovered that skin color, hair color, height and shape were all viewed differently around the world.

In response to the girls’ discussion, Sammeilyn Semino, a coach from the Philippines, said, “What matters most is that you’re confident of what you have and what you are.”

But a cultural basketball experience would not be complete without experiencing a college basketball game in the U.S., so the girls traveled to New Orleans for the Women’s Basketball Final Four. They dribbled around the Superdome at the “Big Easy Bounce,” met and received autographs from several UCONN players, explored the basketball playground at “Tourney Town,” and of course, watched the semifinals and finals of the tournament from box seats, courtesy of NCAA.

A highlight for Coach Alecia Landaeta from Venezuela was meeting her hero, Lisa Leslie, before the championship game.

“ This is the most incredible moment of my life because Lisa Leslie is, for me, the best player in the world. And it has been my dream to meet her… It’s very very very nice. It’s a good moment, it’s a marvelous moment, and I’m very happy.” She said, choking back tears as she walked up for a quick photo and handshake with her hero.

This is the fourth visitors program that the UT Center for Sport, Peace and Society has facilitated, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State Empowering Women and Girls through Sports exchange program.