Coach Rus Bradburd, a friend of PPI-NI, has long put on a camp called ‘Basketball in the Bario’ in El Paso, TX. Similar to PPI, one of the camp’s goals is to bring children together and bridge divides. Last year, Coach Rus asked if we could send a fellow to help with the basketball camp, and it went so well, he asked if we could send another one this year. Last week, Coach Casey Tryon returned from her trip to the Segunda Barrio where she helped coach basketball to young children and represent PPI-NI at ‘Basketball in the Barrio.’ In this week’s blog, she writes about her experiences in one the poorest districts in America.
Last week marked the 18th year of ‘Basketball in the Barrio,’ a cultural basketball camp held annually in the Segundo Barrio (Second Ward) of El Paso, Texas, just two blocks from the Mexican border. The Segundo Barrio is one of the poorest districts in the United States, and each summer Coach Rus Bradburd and his team of coaches provide children ages 6-10 with a chance to learn new basketball skills and take pride in their culture. What’s most special about this camp is the energy and passion surging out of the coaches and campers. The camp was started in honor of Rocky Galarza, a respected boxer in the Segundo Barrio who spent much of his life mentoring young athletes from the area, and his memory continues to be an inspiration for all involved.
Each morning, campers and coaches were welcomed to the Armijo Community Center by a barrage of fiddles and guitars playing Mexican folk tunes. Maria and Jahvi, teachers from Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, led the group, which included campers who are also budding musicians. Throughout the day, the sound of music never left, and at lunch local musicians added their own touch. Over the weekend, campers were lucky enough to hear stories from well-known storyteller Joe Hayes, who fluidly switches from English to Spanish and back again in his original tales and retellings of Mexican myths. Campers helped Jamie the Magic Guy with some of his magic tricks and tested their art skills by creating life size basketball players from saran wrap and packing tape in a communal art project. Ballet Folklorico of El Paso also put on a colorful dance show that brought dancers in swirling Mexican dresses and peasant garb onto the basketball court for demonstrations before campers poured out of the stands to try a few steps.
Over the three days, campers participated in a variety of stations, including “two-ball dribbling” and the “education station,” where campers wrote and illustrated their own stories about dinosaurs. There was station that gave campers a chance to play different instruments in the percussion family, but perhaps the biggest hit of all was the “jump rope station,” where campers got to run under the bridge and jump over the river.
I was only in El Paso for four short days, but I was there long enough to know that ‘Basketball in the Barrio’ is more than just a camp. It’s a big family that gathers together once a year to remember Rocky, play a bit of basketball, and give back to the community. It’s a family that understands the impact sport and the arts can have on people’s lives, and it’s a family that welcomes new people with open arms. I have come to understand, and believe in, the various ways sport can be used to bridge divides and strengthen communities, but this camp showed me how sport and the arts can complement each other to make an even stronger impact. Something special happens every June in the Segundo Barrio, and I am very grateful to have had such a wonderful and unique opportunity.