Hoop Dreams in Iraq

Hoop Dreams in Iraq

By Elizabeth Davis

It’s a safe assumption that girls who play basketball have probably heard of Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt and dream about meeting her. That goes even for girls living in Iraq.

Through Sport 4 Peace, two doctoral students at UT Knoxville made this dream come true for 10 Iraqi girls last summer. Sarah Hillyer, co-founder of Sport 4 Peace, and Ashleigh Huffman, assistant researcher and assistant camp director, helped bring the girls and three of their coaches to the U.S. last June.

As part of the trip, the girls attended basketball camp at UT and got to meet Summitt.

“We wanted them to see the opportunities we have here in the States for young girls and young women and teach them life skills through the game of basketball,” Summitt said.

The girls and their coaches were grateful for the opportunity to visit the U.S. They also visited Washington, D.C., attended a WNBA game, and hiked in the Smokies.

“My players are playing on the courts in America, and it is just like a dream,” said the team’s head coach. “I hope that other people, not only me, can come here and share their dreams just like I did.”

The team’s trip was made possible by SportsUnited, a U.S. Department of State program, in partnership with Sport4Peace/Global Sports Partners and the NBA.

The idea to host the girls was born after Sport 4 Peace conducted an Olympic basketball training camp for girls and women in Iraq. Summitt sent the girls a videotaped message, and the Lady Vols provided some basketballs.

“One day at camp last year, we spread the girls out, gave them blank 4×6 note cards, and said ‘Please write down your biggest dream.’ Each one wrote that her dream was to visit the United States of America, to attend a WNBA game, and to meet Coach Pat Summitt and tell her ‘Thank you for the video, the basketballs, and the message she has sent us.’ Today, you are seeing the reality of these girls achieving their dream,” Hillyer said.

The players, ages 14 to 16, were selected to represent different regions, religions, and socioeconomic groups. They were also judged on leadership qualities, positive attitude, and a spirit of solidarity.

Tennessee Alumnus featured Sport 4 Peace in its winter 2009 issue.