Monday Mornings at PPI-ME

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Coach Rifka Ross and American Fellow LaToya Fisher start practice with the girls at Ein Karem

This week’s PPI-ME blog is written by American Fellow James Levine.

A few days ago, I woke up and realized I didn’t know what day of the week it was. After checking my phone, I learned it was Monday. Around the world, most people (understandably) don’t like Monday mornings. Mondays mean that the weekend is over, and the work week is beginning. For those who don’t think their work is particularly fun, I sympathize with you.

Monday mornings at PPI – ME are a little different. First, the Israeli work week starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday, so Monday here is more like Tuesday. Also, unlike most people, we get to wake up and coach basketball, which is pretty incredible. So, for readers of “From the Field” who need a little respite from Monday mornings, I hope you can live vicariously through me.

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The beautiful views from Ein Karem

We start Mondays at Ein Karem, a school nestled in the mountains outside of Jerusalem, where we have an all-girls team. The girls start their Sunday and Monday mornings with basketball practice at 8:20 a.m. Now, I’m not an authority on education, but I think first-period basketball is a great addition to any middle school curriculum. Before practice starts, I usually chat with one of our players, Noam, who teaches me bits and pieces of Hebrew, while laughing at me. Recently she has been pressuring me to download Duolingo and swears I’ll learn the language if I try it.

Despite the early start time, practices at Ein Karem are high-energy. Rifka Ross, the team’s head coach, always comes prepared with creative, fun and challenging drills. The girls do dribble series around cones, work on footwork and finish with hoops. Recently, they have started playing 4-on-4 live and they are incredibly competitive. During shooting drills, finishing drills and races, the girls always give 100% and aren’t afraid to get physical. It’s not unusual to see girls diving on the ground or leaving practice proudly wearing battle wounds.

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A high-energy game of 4-on-4 to end practice!

We end practice with a universally-loved game called “Yalla-Bye” led by LaToya and the girls go off to their next class at 9:15 a.m. Monday mornings at Ein Karem are great because we have an amazing group of players, but to make things better, we have two practices at Keshet to look forward to in the afternoon!

Tamika Catchings visits PPI-CY

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

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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!

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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.

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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!!!

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A wonderful day with everlasting memories!

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.

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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!

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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.

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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

Kfar Saba and Meiser Bring the Energy!

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The entire Kfar Saba and Meiser squad and their coaches after an awesome twinning!

This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East blog is written by International Fellow, LaToya Fisher. She shares about the first twinning between two teams: Kfar Saba (Jewish) and Meiser (Arab).

Every international fellow worries about the dreaded first twinning between two teams from different communities. You never know how nervous or shy the participants will be or how quickly they will warm up to each other. Meeting and playing with new people is always scary; throw in a language barrier and cultural differences and you just never know! The fellows and coaches have to figure out instantly what to bring to the activity in order to engage the participants and encourage them to return. You never know what the fellows will pull out of their bag of tricks and this twinning did not disappoint.

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Fellow Courtney Douglass cheering on two of the participants

Last week fellow Courtney Douglass and I were faced with this challenge as two of PeacePlayers International – Middle East’s teams in the north – Kfar Saba (Jewish) and Meiser (Arab) – had their first twinning of the year. Because many participants on both teams played the previous year, and they came with great attitudes and helped us put on an amazing twinning.

The twinning started off with a dynamic warm-up, in which participants worked in pairs to complete different dribbling tasks and chase down loose basketballs. After the warm-up, the boys went outside to play 5-on-5, while the girls stayed inside and did drills with me and Courtney. In one of the drills, the girls were divided into two groups, each lined up along the sidelines opposite each other. They then did funny movements while advancing toward the mid-way point between them and, when they met in the middle, performed some type of silly action, such as a hi-five, touching basketballs, wrapping basketballs around each other, or doing a “fist bump” with the basketballs.

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These two participants are professionals with their bunny ears technique!

The girls loosened up so much during the warm-up activities that we were able to get them to do funny things like hop with the ball between their knees while making bunny ears, make kissing noises while touching basketballs mid-court, and come up with hilarious and cute team names such as the “Bunny Ballers.”

After the fun activities concluded, it was time for some competition and teamwork. We split the girls into teams and took time to learn each others’ names. During the competition we encouraged lots of cheering and dancing. The level of jumping up and down and cheering for each individual and for the teams as a whole was off the charts. A first twinning this energized and fun is every fellow’s dream, but it is somewhat of a unicorn. It’s the type of the thing that when it happens you embrace every moment and try to bottle some of the greatness for events to come!

The Countdown to the Jingle Ball Tournament Begins at PPI-NI

With less than three weeks to our Jingle Ball tournament here at PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland, we take a look back over Jingle Ball highlights from the past 10 years with project coordinator, Joanne Fitzpatrick.

Jingle Ball is one of our bi-annual tournaments that takes place in December each year. Children and young people from the divided communities around Belfast come together in one shared space, united through their integrated basketball teams. Over the past 10 years, many things have changed in our programming, but Jingle Ball still holds the same spirit that it always has. It really is a time for all of our participants to come together and celebrate what they have achieved throughout the year. Let’s take a look over some legendary moments from Jingle Ball history.

Jingle Ball 2006

It has been 10 years since this photo was taken in Limavady, County Londonderry at Jingle Ball 2006. When we go through our archive of photos, this is the furthest back we can go. This photo was taken at the ‘sit down clown’ station a game that we still play with our participants and is easily one of our most popular games. Behind the girls you can see the sit down clown ‘wall of fame’, something we may just have to bring back to our programmes.

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Jingle Ball 2007

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This was a particularly special Jingle Ball for me as this was when I first joined PeacePlayers. Teams came together from all over Northern Ireland and yet it didn’t matter where anyone was from, they all loved basketball. I refereed the entire day, which is not everyone’s favourite job and I still managed to fall in love with this amazing organisation. After this tournament that I began coaching for PeacePlayers, because I couldn’t resist it. Maybe it had something to do with Harry Morra, former Operations Manager, and his amazing dunking skills. I guess my dreams of being “Air Jo-dan” are what brought me in.

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Jingle Ball 2009

Jingle Ball ’09 was one of my favourite tournaments. It was the first time that I helped to run a tournament and truly understand what needed to happen back stage to make such a huge tournament possible. If you watch carefully you might even spot local coach, Champion4Peace and former Jingle Ball participant, Connor Keenan.

Jingle Ball 2010

This photo sums up what the last six years of PeacePlayers has been about for me. In this photo you’ll find two former Jingle Ball participants, AJ McMinn and Michaela Thompson, accepting their gold medals back in December 2010. AJ, a Protestant from North Belfast, is now a member of our BIL+ programme, a senior Champion4Peace and an assistant coach at our North Belfast Interface League. Michaela, a Catholic from West Belfast, is a lead coach in North Belfast, assists in the coordination of both Junior and Senior Champion4Peace groups and is the current Coach of the Year co-winner. Seeing these young people come through the programme to become great leaders and role models for participants from their own communities is what makes all the hard work worthwhile.

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Jingle Ball 2011

Our biggest Jingle Ball EVER!! 113 participants from all over Belfast. The best thing is, a ton of the people in this photo are still involved to this day.

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Jingle Ball 2014

In Spring 2013, PeacePlayers decided to invest further in our tournaments and turn our after schools programming into an integrated hub for each side of the city. North, South, East and West Belfast would train separately for eight weeks in the lead up to Jingle Ball. They’d get to know their teammates better and compete for the pride of their united side of the city. At Jingle Ball 2014, we had huge numbers representing their newly formed hubs and the kids loved it.

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Jingle Ball 2015

After two years of running our integrated clubs in each side of the city, we knew we were onto a winner. With friendships being forged from both sides of the religious divide, our united teams were leading the way in what our shared future could look like. With players like Christopher and Owen from either side of the largest “peace wall” in Northern Ireland, these West Belfast teammates demonstrated the power of sport in creating peace in “our wee country.”

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Jingle Ball 2016

This year we see a new development to our favourite Christmas tournament. Our participants are separated into three age groups: Junior (8-11), Senior (12-14) and BIL+ (15-18). Jingle Ball 2016 is set to be our biggest tournament yet with 150 participants registered and over 20 teams entered. We’re excited to see, hear and feel the energy that our amazing participants will bring on Saturday 3rd December in Queens PEC. If you’re interested in being involved in this year’s tournament contact Debbie at dbyrne@peaceplayersintl.org or like our Facebook page for more details https://www.facebook.com/peaceplayersni/

PeacePlayers Presented with Award from Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

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PPI receives the Reflections of Hope Award at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel on November 14, 2016. (Via abc Tulsa.)

PeacePlayers International (PPI) was honored for its international work uniting young people in divided communities through basketball with the “Reflections of Hope Award” from the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. PPI was named the award recipient in August of this year.

Co-founder and Executive Director, Brendan Tuohey accepted the award on behalf of PPI saying, “We at PPI are deeply honored to receive the Reflections of Hope Award and to be included among past winners who have overcome barriers to build a more peaceful and just world. The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum represents the very best of what individual citizens working together towards a shared future can achieve.”

Along with Tuohey, the Oklahoma Thunder general manager, Sam Presti, PPI-ME participants Liraz Ben Yosef and Malak Ayub and coach Rebecca Ross were also in attendance at the award luncheon.

The Reflections of Hope Award is granted annually to those who embody the core beliefs of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. Past recipients include journalist Anthony Shadid (2012), and Presidents George W. Bush and family (2011), and William J. Clinton (2010).

More information about PeacePlayers and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum’s selection can be found here.

What I learned from working with PPI-NI for a week

This week’s blog by PPI-NI is written by Nora Sullivan, a Senior Champions4Peace participant who worked alongside the PPI-NI staff and helped with different programmes for a week. 

In Northern Ireland, young people are required to gain work experience or a short-term internship at an organisation or company of choice for a week to gain employability skills and exposure to an organisation.

This past week I had the privilege of being able to carry out my work experience at PeacePlayers International – Northern Ireland. This involved travelling to schools where I observed and helped with different programmes taking place.

nora-and-brooklynNora is on the right in this picture with Brooklyn O’Hare.  Both are part of our Champions4Peace Programme.

At the beginning of the week, I was involved in the Girl’s Model/ St. Louises project. This project is between a Catholic and a Protestant secondary school, and it is aimed at teaching the pupils to be tolerant of others. It brought together year 8 students from the two schools and PeacePlayers coaches Debbie, Jazz and Michaela led community relations and basketball sessions.

The community relations portion of this programme revolved around teaching the pupils  how religion should not play a role in who we are and are not friends with, and about other key life lessons. This was done by engaging the kids in activities centered around each topic, for example the good/bad side game was an example of prejudice and discrimination.

On the other hand, basketball sessions on shooting and defence allowed the children to learn the basics of the sport. Matches gave the pupils the opportunity to show off the skills they developed throughout the programme, and required teamwork and communication skills to be put into action.

Overall I would say that this programme was extremely successful and there were noticeable friendships formed between kids from different sides of the community who had different religious backgrounds. Watching the girls bond and put religion aside was by far the most rewarding part of the week.

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Nora and coach Jazz with the winning team from Girl’s Model and St Louise’s Project.

The next project I was lucky enough to observe was a twinning between St. Anne’s and Cranmore Integrated primary schools. PeacePlayers coaches Liam, Jazz, Nicole and Andrew carried out this twinning which revolved around getting the children from the two schools to mix and get to know each other. This was done through several activities including the game, ‘Find a new seat if.’  A focus during the community relations part of the session was diversity, and how differences are good in our world. By completing a ‘Same as me/different than me’ badge, the pupils were required to ask each other questions and get to know their teammates. Finally, activities such as relay races ensured all the pupils got involved and used teamwork to complete each task.

Overall I have 100% enjoyed my experience working with PeacePlayers NI as it is an amazing organisation that really is making a difference in our world. I would like to say a special thanks to Debbie and all the PPI-NI staff for taking care of me the whole week. camp-betaNora on the far right with some more of the wonderful young leaders we have in PeacePlayers – Northern Ireland.