Flagship Event A BIG Success

Flagship (flag-ship), noun. Definition: The best or most important thing owned or produced by a particular organization.

Last Friday evening over eighty children from all over Belfast gathered at Seaview Football Club in North Belfast for the Belfast Interface Games (BIG) 2012 Flagship Event.

The skies were blue, the sun was shining and the music started filling the stadium as the coaches from Ulster Gaelic Athletic Association (Ulster GAA), Irish Football Association (IFA), Ulster Rugby, and PeacePlayers International began setting up for the final event of the initiative that the four organizations had been working on all summer. As the busloads of children and parents from the across the city started to come in through the gates of Seaview, the atmosphere grew. Families and friends showed their support by cheering for their teams as they took the pitch. The fans from North Belfast were particularly spirited, donning homemade t-shirts and turning the stands into a sea of red.

Teammates from BIG North outfitted and ready for the games to begin.

As the children found their team coaches and team shirts, the buzz began to spread about our special guests.  The children were full of guesses from pop act, One Direction, to former PPI-NI Fellow, Coach Shannon.  We then had them look across the pitch and see if anyone stood out. You could tell by the amazement on their faces that they had spotted the several tall gentlemen, who were giants in an ocean of nine to thirteen year olds!

Players from BIG East posing with their 7-foot teammate, NBA Nets Player Brook Lopez.

Our special guests for the BIG Flagship Event joined us from all the way across the Atlantic- the US.  We were all privileged to be joined by Brendan Tuohey (PPI Executive Director), Arn Tellem (PPI Board member and sports agent), his wife Nancy (former President of the CBS Network Television Group), their sons Matty, Matthew and Eric, Alexander Snyder, James Dunleavy, Brook Lopez (NBA player, Brooklyn Nets) and brother Alex, Rob McClenaghan (professional basketball trainer) and wife Daniela DeSimone, and Will Perdue (former NBA player and sports commentator). We were especially pleased to see so many of our special guests give soccer, rugby, and Gaelic football a try!

Our guests’ presence at this event made a huge difference. The kids loved playing the three sports with the guys, receiving high-fives, and comparing shoe sizes. Brook and Alex Lopez proved to be very good goalkeepers in both soccer and Gaelic football, while Matty Tellem provided us with some spectacular tries in rugby. The crowd adored our special guests and cheered them at every opportunity.

We also counted on many of our PeacePlayers coaches and junior coaches to accompany each team through rotations of challenge stations, which corresponded to each sport. At the stations, run by coaches from each governing body at the event, the kids had the opportunity to put their skills in each sport to the test. At one point there was a basketball match-up between one of our kids and the seven-foot-tall Brooke Lopez, which provided much entertainment for the crowd. If you think that Brook went easy on our player, you’d be wrong!

Members of Ulster Rugby, Ulster GAA, and IFA soon joined us. Irish and Ulster Rugby star Rory Best even put on a tag rugby belt to round off the final matches, making a few questionable tackles, proving he is just another kid at heart. As the finals commenced and the night came to a close, energy was still at a high. Kids and parents were dancing with the mascots from Ulster GAA and Ulster Rugby, and everyone was cheering for the final two teams no matter what part of the city they were from.

It was then time for the awards ceremony. The winning team was announced to be “The Bulldogs” from West Belfast. The MVP for Ulster Rugby was Tyler Best (Wheatfield PS); for Ulster Rugby, Odhran Mullan (Holy Cross Boys PS); and for IFA, Rachel Patterson (Carr’s Glen PS). We then got on to the BIG Spirit and Hustle awards. The Hustle award is for working hard, not giving up when your team is losing, and playing to the whistle. This award goes to the person who tries their hardest in every game. The Spirit award, on the other hand, recognizes leadership, enthusiasm, teamwork, and peace-building. This award goes to the person who embodies the mission of PeacePlayers. This year, we were proud to present the Hustle award to Shannon McKeever from Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagain, and the Spirit award to Jamel Donald from Suffolk Community Centre.

On behalf of everyone here at PeacePlayers- Northern Ireland, a BIG thank you to all our special guests, governing bodies, and our funders PEACE III and the Belfast City Council for making the Belfast Interface Games possible. We are also grateful to everyone who came out to support the flagship event. Thank you for providing such a great atmosphere for all the kids!

Group shot of participants, coaches and the newly crowned BIG Champions, “The Bulldogs” from the BIG West.

All saw the event as a huge success and are looking forward to making it BIGGER and BETTER next year!

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