Music, Matches and Mayhem…JINGLE BALL 2K16

This week’s blog is written by PPI-NI’s Managing Director, Gareth Harper.


That’s the word that comes immediately to mind when I reflect on Saturday, December 3rd, 2016. It was on this day that PPI-NI hosted its 10th Annual Jingle Ball Tournament, and yes it was the biggest and best to date, crammed full of ‘goose bump’ moments. After a decade, this event still remains a highlight in the PPI-NI calendar. It has also become an important landmark event for our many volunteers and supporters, including our friends from Google and from the Clare Youth Service.   


Some of the Google volunteers. From left, Maxime, Andre, and Badr

Starting at 1pm, the basketball courts in the Queens PEC were transformed to a sea of red, green, yellow and blue as 149 Catholic and Protestant players from interface areas across Belfast came together to compete on 22 cross community teams. Chants of “EAST, EAST, EAST BELFAST and “WEST IS BEST” competed with top tunes blasted out by PPI-NI’s resident DJ, Sean “Topper” Thompson. Music, matches and mayhem pretty much sums up the scene.


Participans from all sides of the city, 150 young people from all over Belfast took part in the Jingle Ball Tournament

It was teams from South, East, and West that emerged victorious on the day, picking up coveted spirit and hustle awards. But if smiles and flushed cheeks were the measure of success for the day, I’d say everyone was a winner.  Jingle Ball was a truly fantastic seasonal conclusion to another brilliant year.  We even threw in a mannequin challenge as an added bonus!

I feel privileged to be involved with such an amazing organisation.  It is fantastic to work with such a talented and committed team of staff, volunteers and supporters.  Watching past participants step up to take on coaching and leadership roles is simply awesome and was definitely my biggest ‘goose bump’ moment. I can’t wait until next year.  

Tamika Catchings visits PPI-CY

This weeks blog is written Cyprus Fellow Sean Wright about a visit from retired WNBA star, Tamika Catchings.


Tamika presenting Eleni with a gift

This past week, PeacePlayers International – Cyprus was fortunate to have retired WNBA star, Tamika Catchings, visit for a few days. All this was possible because one of our participants, Eleni Partakki, submitted a drawing for a watch design contest on what peace meant to her. The contest was sponsored by one of our biggest donors, Laureus, a sport for good foundation that partners with organizations similar to PPI to use sports as a tool to make the world a better place. Laureus partnered with the International Watch Company, IWC to create the winner’s design into a watch, and out of all the wonderful entries, our Eleni won!


Tamika inspiring our youth

I can’t begin to tell you how inspirational Tamika Catchings is. For starters, she is one of the greatest WNBA players to ever play the game, so it was wonderful having her here to share stories from her career. Our participants have dreams just like Tamika did when she was a child. They may not all be the same, but the overall message she shared of hard work and surrounding yourself with people who can help you get there hopefully resonated with our participants. That’s what we try to do at PPI-CY: we want to be as helpful as possible to our participants as they figure out what they want to do in life and provide the tools for them to succeed. Whether that is extra practice on the court, leadership training, communication skills or any other valuable skill, we are here to help the next generation become successful.


US Ambassador Doherty and Tamika playing on the same team

After Tamika’s and US Ambassador Kathleen Doherty’s speeches, our kids got to experience something that not many in the world ever do. They got to play basketball with with Tamika, a living legend in the basketball community, four-time gold medalist, countless All-Star, top 15 WNBA player all-time, with many more awards to her name. Getting to be on the same court, catching a pass from her, giving her a high five are all moments in our kids lives that they will never forget.

I’m even sure US Ambassador Doherty won’t forget, as Tamika persuaded her to get on the court where she eventually scored a basket! The smart lady she is, she walked right off the court after that basket because it couldn’t get better than that.

Thank you to Laureus, IWC, US Ambassador Kathleen Doherty and Tamika Catchings for making this an event our kids at PPI-CY will never forget!!!


A wonderful day with everlasting memories!

Reflections of Hope: PPI-ME Visits Oklahoma City

In mid-November, PeacePlayers International (PPI) received the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum’s “Reflections of Hope Award” for the work it does abroad to bring divided communities together through basketball. PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) was fortunate enough to send two participants and a coach to the ceremony in Oklahoma City.


Reflections of Hope co-chair Sam Presti (left) leads a panel discussion with PPI-ME participants Liraz and Malak, coach Rifka, and Co-Founder/Executive Director Brendan Tuohey. Photo courtesy of

This year’s Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum “Reflections of Hope Award” was presented to PPI on November 14, 2016. PPI-ME was fortunate enough to send two participants and teammates, Liraz (Jewish) and Malak (Arab), and their coach, Rifka (Jewish), to Oklahoma City to participate in the ceremony and share with the audience what PeacePlayers means to them. The award represents the beliefs of the Oklahoma National Memorial Foundation that hope can survive and blossom despite the tragedy and chaos of political violence, and that even in environments marred by such violence, peaceful, nonviolent approaches are best. These beliefs align seamlessly with PPI’s vision and mission and it was an honor to be recognized.

The trip consisted of many meetings, lots of amazing food (no PPI-ME trip is complete without a visit to Shake Shack!), sightseeing, and some NBA fun, but what made the trip was special for each PPI-ME attendee was unique.


The ladies enjoying a nice meal

For Liraz, the trip was special because in addition to attending the awards ceremony, the girls had a chance to tour the museum and learn about the  1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The tour was quite emotional and different from any museum Liraz had visited before. When tragic events occur where many lives are lost, the public usually only hears about the number of casualties or certain stories that are brought to light. The memorial museum in Oklahoma City highlights every victim’s personal story. This made the museum highly memorable.

For coach Rifka, the trip was special because she got to see firsthand the magnitude of support that PPI has in the U.S. She also got to see her players in a new light. Rifka already knew that Liraz and Malak are both great players and people, but the trip allowed her to get to know them better. She got to hear her players speak about their lives in the Middle East and see them represent PPI. She was inspired by her players and will cherish the trip forever.


PPI holding the award. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma City National Memorial  & Museum.

For Malak, the trip was special because she got to eat at Shake Shack again, which never gets old for many PPI-ME participants. She also found the museum tour emotional and inspiring because it was her first time learning about the Oklahoma City bombing. Other highlights for Malak were the conversations she had with Rifka and Liraz about the Middle East conflict and the opportunity to share her story with so many people who were interested to learn more about PPI.

Thank you to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and the Oklahoma National Memorial Foundation for their wonderful hospitality and for honoring PPI with this year’s Reflections of Hope Award!

What it’s like to be a PeacePlayer

This week’s blog is written by Jazz Bishop, International Fellow at PPI-Northern Ireland.

There’s been a lot to learn here in Northern Ireland, but so far I feel like it’s been an easy transition and I’m excited to learn more as time goes on. With Jingle Ball right around the corner, there’s so much going on at PPI-NI and I’m excited to be contributing. In the meantime, I’d like to share with you all what I’ve been up to!

RECRUITMENT: One of my responsibilities here at PPI-NI is to coordinate East Belfast teams in our Belfast Interface League afterschool programme. In the beginning, it was a struggle to get the participation numbers up. I had approximately nine kids total for junior, and senior boys and girls teams.  However, this past Wednesday, I had 27 kids show up for my session! You can imagine how excited I was to see the numbers triple. Joanne and I went to Campbell College in East Belfast to do some recruiting and it definitely paid off. Not only was I able to recruit more kids, Joanne was able to recruit participants to join the BIL+ program for our senior participants.


BIL+ Participant, Bradley West, from Campbell College.

A lot of the new participants we recruited already know how to play basketball and can play quite well. I think our current PeacePlayers’ participants stay involved in PeacePlayers in part due to friendships developed through the program and to have fun, and new participants look forward to the new friendships that are sure to develop, and they know the game of basketball, so it’s a win-win for everyone.  We even had our first ever slam dunk here at PPI-NI by Bradley West. Bradley is about 6’4 tall and he just kept dunking it during the BIL+ session last week.  It definitely made for an exciting day for everyone involved. I look forward to seeing what else this Bradley  and his peers can bring to the program.

TWINNINGS: Other exciting things I am currently involved with include two twinning programmes in East Belfast. I think the twinnings are going well so far, and they bring together participants from different backgrounds. All of the participants are so full of energy and eager to learn from the coaches. I have one young boy that every time we meet he comes up to me and just asks the most random questions, which is adorable.


Euston Street & St. Teresa’s Twinning.

For one of my winnings last week, I was at a Saint Joseph’s School. There are five Saint Joseph’s Schools in Belfast and I started with selecting the wrong one on my satellite phone. Fortunately, the other PeacePlayers’ coaches I was with helped me correct my error. The morning may not have started off how we planned, but the ending was more exciting than anything. The students kept wanting to give the coaches and I high fives and the teacher even had to speak to them multiple times to get back in line to leave.

THANKGIVING!: Breda Dick, a PPI board member and the Chairwoman of Phonenix Basketball club which I also play for invited me and some of the Americans in the basketball community in Belfast to Thanksgiving dinner. While being away from family can be tough especially during the holidays, I enjoyed the time spent with fellow Americans.


Thanksgiving dinner with some fellow Americans.

TA PROJECTS: (Also know as Technical Assistance projects) This past weekend I joined Sally on an Open College Network (OCN) residential, where we trained 15 youth from Dungannon and Magherafelt on Promoting Diversity Through Sports. We had a great group to work with all weekend. Sally took the lead with most of the workshops, while I lead some of the energizer activities. This was my first OCN, so I was still new to the idea and was glad to watch Sally and learn from her. She delivered all of the sessions with such great public speaking skills, and confidence. I’m hoping my public speaking will improve, and I can perform my first OCN just as well as Sally did. All of the participants seemed to really enjoy the weekend and understand the concepts that we were presenting, which was very rewarding to see.


Mid-Ulster OCN Training

We have our big Jingle Ball Tournament on Saturday, December 3rd, which also happens to be my birthday, so I am sure this will be a great day all around. This is my first big PeacePlayers event so I am very excited to see how it all plays out. I can’t wait for the big day and to contribute in any way I can to make it even bigger and better. I’m confident I will learn a lot from the expertise of those that have been running the event over the course of the years and I look forward to bringing back some knowledge.  It is going to be a great event for everyone involved!

Thank You, Dad

This week’s blog by PPI-CY is written by Fellow Sean Wright about his recent trip back home to the USA for an weekend with family and friends. 


My Family being honored before the game.

My dad taught me the beautiful game of basketball and all the joys that this game could bring you throughout your life if you played the right way. He instilled the values that I live my life according to, and many of those came from when he was coaching me. Sadly, he passed away in December on 2003, so whenever I step out onto a court or dribble a ball, I think of him and everything he has taught me.


Steve Wright #33

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of coming back to the USA for a basketball tournament held at Boston University where my father was a standout basketball player. This was no ordinary tournament for my family, as this was the first year of the “Steve Wright Classic,” which was named in memory of my dad. Going to the gym where my dad scored all those points, had all those rebounds and won all those wins was truly was amazing. It was a very emotional Friday night, as BU brought us onto center court underneath the retired jersey 33 before the game to recognize my father, I was witness to something that brought me to tears. The majority of the people in the stands didn’t know my father, but the amount of love and support that my family and I felt from their standing ovation made me cry. Me, a 6 foot 8 man with a full beard, crying. But that’s how much my dad meant and still means to me. I will never forget that night, so I want to thank Coach Jones and the BU Athletic Department for this amazing tribute to a truly great man.


Me, my brother Kevin, and My dad Steve

I’ve had many coaches in my life, but the one who I really try to imitate is my first coach, my father. I even use his whistle that he used to blow whenever my friends and I would be goofing off, which was NEVER! (That’s a lie, if I remember correctly he used that often). His style of coaching was to be as positive a person as you can be. He taught the importance of being a good teammate and how you could be that. He used to love to call us a “wolfpack” because if a wolf goes out on it’s own, it most likely won’t survive. But when everyone stays together and helps one another, they will prosper. All of these values and lessons I learned from my father aligned right in with PeacePlayers and our approach to coaching. So when I am coaching the youth in Cyprus, I am trying to coach the way my father coached me because he showed me years before I ever heard of PeacePlayers, the foundation of what being a PPI coach entails. I know that is why I was able to become a part of the PPI family which has been the most rewarding experience of my life so far.

Thank you, Dad.


Kevin, My Dad, and Me

Communicating with PPI – ME Participants: The Fun and the Challenge

This week’s blog post by PeacePlayers International – Middle East is written by international fellow James Levine. He joined PPI in September and currently coaches teams in Keshet, Ein Karem and Ein Rafa in Jerusalem.


As a PPI-ME fellow, I coach basketball teams in Jerusalem. Most kids in Jerusalem speak either Hebrew or Arabic – two languages I do not speak. Given that I work with a lot of young players, only a few of the kids I coach speak English.

You might be wondering how this works. To some extent, basketball is a universal language and there’s no need for verbal communication. However, communication can still be a challenge, so what does communication between 10-year-old Hebrew and Arabic-speaking kids and their 24-year-old American coach look like?

When the kids at Keshet come running out of school to practice, I greet them enthusiastically by saying, “What’s up! What’s up?” They typically respond in Hebrew with “I’m well” or “I’m okay.” They understand what I’m saying and I understand their responses, if not the exact words. Recently, I overheard the kids imitating me on the court, shouting “Was-sup, was-sup!” in their cute accents.


Sometimes our players dribble around cones, sometimes the cones go on their hands

Sometimes I try to have deeper conversations with the kids. When I’m feeling adventurous, I might ask how their day was or what they learned in school. In response, the kids usually squint their eyes, tilt their heads, and look confused. They proceed to ask “ma?”or “shu?” which means “what?” in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively. I repeat my question, to which they typically react with the same response, and the same look of bewilderment as before. Usually at this point another coach will intervene to translate, or the kids will dribble away after realizing that trying to understand my question is futile, and probably not important anyway.

On other occasions, the kids ask me questions in Hebrew or Arabic, either forgetting that I don’t speak their language or assuming I’d suddenly learned. Fortunately, they have taught me how to respond in Hebrew and Arabic when you don’t understand something – I copy their looks of confusion and repeat the word “ma?” or “shu?” At first the kids assume my Hebrew or Arabic response indicates understanding. After a moment, they realize that isn’t the case, and dribble off into the distance.


Coach Rifka Ross in the background running a full-court dribbling drill and doing the necessary talking

In the end, our head coaches do most of the talking and I get by using physical gestures and demonstrations. Regardless, the practices run smoothly. The truth is that even without a language barrier, you never know if a 10-year-old is listening to you anyway! Sometimes the kids make lay-ups, from time to time they end up with cones on their hands, and they almost always have fun.

When The West Go Marching In – My JingleBall Experiences

Today’s blog is written by PPI-NI fellow, Ryan McGarry about his JingleBall tournament experiences.

Since I began at PeacePlayers I’ve attended two JingleBall tournaments as part of former fellow, Casey Tryon’s West Belfast coaching staff.

The first was held in Stranmillis College, and it was the first major PeacePlayers tournament I attended. It was also different from other tournaments I’d ever been to with DJ Topper in the corner blasting tunes, coaches adorned in bright costumes and face paint, participants  dancing on the sidelines watching and cheering on their teams, and the general high level of energy from everyone involved. It was something completely new to me.

During this first trip, I coached alongside Coach Jack as a West Belfast Junior Boys coach. In addition, each team present received help from one of the volunteers from our friends at Google. We had eight weeks of BIL training behind us, but with a team that had at different points as large as 20, and at times as small as four or five, there was some chemistry missing.

However, the boys played beyond our expectations! They came together as best they could, played their hardest, and we managed to win the whole thing! Not bad going for a group of nine and 10 year old boys from different communities in West Belfast who hardly knew each other’s names six weeks ago. I know I speak for Jack as well when I say that we both felt more excited and nervous during some of those matches as coaches, than we ever had during our own games as players.


I was proud to be a part of the team that term, and we continued to improve in the lead up to our summer equivalent of JingleBall – SummerJam – and that held its own challenges and successes (to be discussed at a later date!)

In the run up to my second JingleBall, there was a bit of reshuffling to be done. Jack took himself off to the States for a year of adventure, and I was switched over to coach the Senior Boys. While we trained in the same room most Wednesday nights, and I knew them all by name, I did not really have the opportunity to develop any relationships with my team that point.

So we had eight weeks to find out! Obviously, the basketball skills for this older age group were a level above, but there was still a lot to improve on. We worked away over the weeks in St Mary’s College, coming together as a team and developing as both people and players. As December rolled around, we were all getting amped up for another JingleBall, which was to be held at Lisburn Racquets this year.

A couple of last minute injuries, and some unfortunate timing clashes meant that we were missing a few key players for the first few matches. This, combined with some questionable last-minute additions to our opposing teams (looking at you East Belfast – Coach Ruairi Sheridan) led to a not-so-successful result by the end of the day. However, this didn’t take away from the spirit of the event, which was every bit as fun and enjoyable as the year previous. Even after our losses, the boys were over cheering on the other teams from West, dancing about and generally having a laugh!


So, two years, and two very different results in a sports-sense. However what stood out to me more than the wins or losses was the energy, enthusiasm, and enjoyment that pervaded both days. Two different groups of boys – different ages, different levels of success on the court, but very much the same in that sense of ‘spirit’ that we always look out for and award on the day of our tournaments.


On Saturday 3rd December, I will be attending my third JingleBall as part of West Belfast. This time however, it will be as not only a coach, but also as a coordinator. Casey left on her own adventure, and Jack has returned. In addition, we have two amazing coaches in Adam Ryan and Sophie Kennedy, who I’m certain will have their own successes to report back on after its all over! For the first time this year, I’m not coaching a boys team, instead I’m looking after the Senior Girls. With a bit of a shake up this year in terms of age groups, we’ll see how it all pans out next week. One thing I am sure of is that; win or lose, West will walk in singing and dancing, and leave the same way, as we do every year! #westisbest