This week PeacePlayers held a taster session for 6th graders at an elementary school in Geri, a section of Nicosia far from the city proper. The idea behind a taster session is to see whether or not a school and PeacePlayers would be a good fit for one another. If a taster session goes well and the children have fun, the next step is to build a relationship at the school and eventually start a regular team. The story below is written by PPI-CY’s newest fellow, Henry, as he experienced his very first taster session:
I sat on the far side of Gunnar shaking my leg up and down. I slowly wrenched my neck to one side and then slowly to the other. Two loud cracks and Thanasis looked at me. “You need a chiropractor,” he said. “Yeah,” I replied behind a half smile. What I really needed was for the next taster to go well, my first. The kids were in class and we were waiting to be summoned again. Gunnar strung his whistle from his neck and handed it to me, dangling it in front of my face for a second.
“You got this one,” he said quietly. He got up for water and slapped my shoulder as he crossed behind me. I wiggled in my chair, spun the whistle around my middle and pointer fingers a few times and played through everything that could go wrong. A few Greek-Cypriot women teachers, walked in and out of the room offering us coffee and tea. The bell rang loud and the halls began to rumble and voices sounded from the deep. Kids began to appear from every hall and door, in their school uniforms of black pants and white shirts.
The 5th graders were up. We moved our way to the court outside. The sun painted the hill, the school sat on a bright yellow wash and the valley below was spotted with bits of shades from clouds above. Thanasis, Gunnar, and I began to set up the balls and cones in the proper order as the kids, who just heard of this strange group named PeacePlayers, took center court. The kids lined up as their teacher, Marios, calmly and slowly directed orders for the kids to pay attention. They were shuffling left and right, stepping over the line, spinning in place, bubbling almost. They squinted at the three of us in front of the sunlight. Thanasis introduced us in Greek, and towards the end of his speech he pointed his arm at me. My number had been called.
For most of these kids it was apparent that basketball was new to them. Their dribbles were unique, their shots were without precedent. No kid was driving down Griva Digena and getting the same visual education from a TV screen on how to shoot like Kobe Bryant or pass like Ricky Rubio that we take for granted in the US. I started with an explanation of our PeacePlayers clap, something I saw for the first time just an hour before.
“Basketball,” I said, and a couple of kids clapped out of unison. 30 stood in front of me. I frowned and repeated:“Basketball!” Two claps echoed against the playground walls and distant school buildings. For the next two years these kids will be responsible for clapping twice after every time one of us said the word basketball.
We continued to warm up. I shouted out orders at the kids and they giggled and laughed at the pitch of my voice. They ran, stepped, kicked, skipped, and dove their way across the singed cement for the next 40 minutes. They smiled, screamed, laughed, complained, succeeded, and failed. And it was good.
At the end we brought the kids into the center of the court. They were disoriented but giddy. They spewed out a thousand words a second at each other, pointed at us with their growing fingers, damp with salty sweat, reasoned amongst themselves why we looked and acted the way we did as every child does about something so new and unusual, and reached conclusions mysterious to me and satisfying to themselves, ending in smiles on each face. The taster was finished and it was apparent that these kids enjoyed the little flavor they had of basketball.