A New Friendship is Formed in West Belfast

This week, Coach Casey reflects on her experiences growing up with basketball as a player and a coach and how she finds it has affected, not only her life, but others as well while working for PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland.

“I was born during game 7 of the 1985 NBA finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. My father watched the game while in a hospital waiting room as my mother was in labor. One year later I was in a Boston Celtics onesie at the Championship parade in Boston.  The first toy I owned was a basketball and I spent a good part of my early childhood in gyms watching my father coach.  That was, of course, until I went to my own practices.  Needless to say, I’ve had a strong 28-year relationship with the game of basketball.  Growing up, basketball was a game – a competition where you had winners and losers, and the only objective was to win.  As I’ve gotten older and taken time to reflect on my basketball life, I have been able to see that it is so much more than a game.  Basketball, and sport, has the opportunity to change lives and communities.”

As a coach I began to understand the substantial impact basketball can have; its ability to teach life skills, produce lasting friendships and instill dedication and commitment.  However it was not until I arrived in Belfast that I saw firsthand basketball changing lives and bringing communities together.

In their first year working together, Springhill Primary School and John Paul II Primary School have embraced each other and the opportunity to form lasting relationships. Located only one mile apart from each other, the students and staff had never met or interacted with each other. Now all of that has changed. Below are some of the highlights from the Twinning so far.

The kids from both schools have become close friends through PeacePlayers International and basketball.

The kids from both schools have become close friends through PeacePlayers International and basketball.

The kids strike a pose for the camera!

The kids strike a pose for the camera!

Friendships extend outside the classroom to our after school programs – John Paul II and Springhill represented a majority of the Jr. BIL (Belfast Interface League) participants this year. The fast friendships that were built helped West Belfast excel at our annual Jingle Ball basketball tournament, as they finished first for the girls and second for the boys.

After arriving back at Springhill in November after a great day of basketball, P6 teacher Mrs. Smyth was greeted by a mother who asked how the day went.  After describing to the mother how successful the day was, the mother’s response was, “That’s so great to hear, activities such as these are long overdue in this part of West Belfast.” This was very powerful feedback indeed!

P7 Twinning starts off with collaboration project – This term has started off much the same with the P7 students making fast friends with each other.  At the beginning of each Twinning program, the two schools take turns giving a presentation about themselves and their schools.  Last week in their school presentation, John Paul II performed Sing by Gary Barlow, which was written for Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.  After their amazing performance, Springhill Vice Principal Mr. Whitcroft, who voluntarily came along for the day, challenged both schools to work together and in our last session to perform the song together.  Both schools excitedly accepted!

John Paul IIl and Springhill Staff excited for other opportunities to work together – Eager to continue interacting with each other, P6 teachers Mrs. Smyth and Mrs. Neeson exchanged contact information at the students’ request.  During our last sessions students signed each other’s shirts, exchanged Facebook information and in some cases were already texting each other!

The kids from both schools show their appreciation for PeacePlayers International and all of its staff!

The kids from both schools show their appreciation for PeacePlayers International and all of its staff!

As a coordinator, working with John Paul II and Springhill has been rewarding in so many different ways.  It’s been great to see all of our hard work appreciated and also for it to be carried on by others who recognize the importance of community relations.  John Paul II and Springhill have both embraced the opportunity to work with PPI-NI from P4 students up through the programs at the older age groups.   The relationships that have formed in such a short period of time is evidence of not only the impact PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland can have, but also of the desire for a shared future among teaching staff and students.


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