The hot sun could not dampen the enthusiasm of kids from the 18th Elementary School in Agios Antonios, Limassol.
It seemed like an odd and kind of humorous question at the time, but, after the day was over, it ended up making a lot of sense. After revealing that he did not speak Greek or Turkish, PPI – CY Fellow Rory O’Neil was attempting to communicate to a young 12-year old Turkish-Cypriot at the start of a day-long “Taster Session” at Agios Antonios High School and Elementary School in Limassol when an unusual question surfaced – “Do you speak basket?” While the intention of the question was no doubt of some other nature, its literal meaning stuck with Rory all day long.
Because several members from last year’s Boys and Girls teams “graduated” from PPI – CY, this year PPI – CY used an entire school-day to showcase PeacePlayers International to potential recruits for its Limassol teams. PPI-CY already has a Boys team up and running at full speed, so it dedicated a majority of the Taster Session to attracting new members for its Girls team.
Kids participated in passing drills, team shooting contests, and everyone's favorite...dancing dribble relays.
PPI – CY’s program in Agios Antonios is funded in part by a grant from the Ministry of Education. Through this grant, PPI – CY is creating two “feeder” teams at the lower elementary school that will allow PPI – CY to reach out to larger portions of the Agios Antonios community, as well as recruit future full-time members of PPI – CY. From 7:30am until the last bell at 1:30pm, PPI – CY Fellow Rory O’Neil and PPI – CY Greek-Cypriot Coordinator Marios Argyrou took over every P.E. class in the high school and elementary school, introducing PPI games and team-building drills to large groups of eager youngsters. For a large portion of the community, PeacePlayers International provides the first ever opportunity to be on a basketball team in in a kids’ life. Throughout the entire day, the sweet sounds of clapping hands, cheering kids, high-fives, bouncing balls, and “1,2,3 PEACEPLAYERS!!!!” filled the gymnasiums and outdoor courts of Agios Antonios’ schools. Very few kids walked out of gym class who were not smiling, laughing, and dripping in sweat. Almost every young girl who attended P.E. class on this day came away with a new appreciation for basketball, even those who had never before considered playing .
The community of Agios Antonios in Limassol, is a very diverse section of the coastal city. Every day at school it is not uncommon to hear Greek, Turkish, English, Bulgarian, Russian, or Serbian, in addition to a smorgasboard of other dialects. On an island where language already represents a major obstacle to basic interaction and possible reconciliation, this can produce a very difficult climate to teach.
GC Program Coordinator Marios Argyrou watches as shots take flight during a team shooting competition.
As PeacePlayers International has proved over and over again, one of easiest and most universal languages available to
children is that of basketball. A perfectly timed backdoor pass from one teammate to another in Cyprus is sure to gain the same amount of excitement in the Middle East as a good ol’ fashioned give-and-go will in South Africa and Northern Ireland. The language of basketball is universal; it is ”spoken” by kids of all shapes, sizes, and nationalities. It has the power to unite, and to bridge divides that our mother tongues sometimes prevent us from crossing. It is a language of sportsmanship, teamwork,
and fun. We speak it by playing it and teaching it for a cause greater than ourselves, just as the team is greater than the individual.
“Do I speak basket?” Yes. Do we? Yes…fluently.