Iraqi Girl's Basketball Team Visit - Daily Update

small oval How Did the Iraq Girls Basketball Project Come About?

Iraq Team VisitLast summer (2008) we held a training camp for young girls in northern Iraq. During camp and as part of our research project, we handed out blank note cards to the 60 young girls who traveled from five different cities to be a part of the first-ever basketball camp for girls in their country. We asked the players to find some private space of their own inside the gym and to write down their biggest dreams. After camp and on the way back to our hotel we read through the note cards, all of them read: “1. To visit America 2. To see a WNBA or NBA game 3. To tell Coach Pat [Summitt] ‘thank you for all of the equipment and training videos you sent to us.’ After reading their responses, we were immediately moved to find a way to make their dreams comes true, “ Hillyer explained.

“When we arrived back in Knoxville, Sarah and I drafted a proposal for Pat Summitt and her staff. The proposal included inviting a team of Iraqi girls players and coaches to attend two sessions of Pat Summitt’s 2009 Summer Basketball Camps. Coach Holly Warlick took the lead and agreed to host the young team, “ said Huffman. After securing a partnership with Lady Vol Basketball and approval from the NCAA, Hillyer and Huffman’s next challenge was to find a means to finance the project, as well as a way to obtain visas for 13 Iraqis. “We made two trips to Washington, D.C. to visit with the U.S. Department of State. On both visits we met with staff members of Sports United, an international Sports Programming Initiative under the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In January, Sports United agreed to sponsor the project and we returned to Knoxville one step closer to making their dreams come true,” stated Huffman.

View a Slide Show of the Visit

small oval June 3 - Wednesday: Washington, D.C.

Thank you for your caring support and encouragement during the last few weeks!!!! A vision that came about nearly one year ago while I was standing in an Iraqi gymnasium guarded by Kurdish soldiers has now become a reality for 12 Iraqi girls with a dream to visit the USA and learn more about basketball, while making new friends! Each of you has played a special role in making this dream come true. Your support, commitment, time, and genuine concern are making a direct impact on these young women.Iraq Team Visit

Ashleigh and I are happy to report that all 12 Iraqi girls arrived safely in D.C. this afternoon. We are still missing our only male coach - his visa is still in process and we are praying that he receives it very soon! His leadership, wisdom, and kind heart are invaluable and we believe the project will not be the same without him.

We've attached a few pictures for you and will be sending daily updates with photos. Again, we value your partnership and support and look forward to the girls meeting each of you while at UT. We could not have done this without your commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of these Iraqi youth.

small oval June 4 - Thursday:

Iraq Team VisitStop #1 - A visit to the U.S. Dept of State Sports United offices to call home and tell their families that they arrived safely. The parents were grateful to hear from the kids and excited to share in their arrival to the USA.

Stop #2 - A shopping excursion to Sports Authority - it was amazing to watch them explore a sporting goods wonderland!!! What an experience - they were given $100 from Sports United to purchase basketball shoes, sports bras, shorts, socks, and water bottles. They LOVED every minute of exploring for basketball gear to wear to UT basketball camp next week.

Stop #3 - A lunch adventure at a local shopping mall food court - most of the kids chose either McDonalds or Pizza - what a great cultural experience for them......We ate hummus, pita, and roasted chicken and lamb! Anybody see the humor in this?

Stop #4 - A boating experience they will never forget!!!! The National Capital Area Women's Paddling Association (DC Dragons) invited the girls to learn about and experience dragon boating which is......

"A dragon boat or "dragonboat" is a very long and narrow, canoe style human-powered boat now used in the team paddling sport of dragon boat racing which originated in China over 2000 years ago. While competition has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of folk ritual, it emerged in modern times as an international "sport" in Hong Kong in 1976. Like running, horse racing and marksmanship, the racing of dragon boats is among mankind's oldest organized competitions."

small oval June 5 - Friday:

Iraq Team VisitWe spent the day at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Maryland. The girls listened to Coach Waters and the players talk about their practices, their team philosophy, and their State Runner-Up 2009 season. River Hills girls basketball team spent the whole day with the team - they toured the school, ate lunch together in the school cafeteria (square pizza and corn or barbeque chicken and french fries, and a carton of milk).

After lunch the girls broke up into small groups and attended different classes with the River Hill players. Some went to Spanish class and some went to French class - an interpreters nightmare!

Following the visit to the high school, the team toured Washington on a guided bus tour. They saw the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials, and the Lincoln Memorial.

We then went to Dupont Circle to eat a wonderful dinner at Skewers, a Middle Eastern restaurant specializing in kabobs and rice! Just like home cookin' for the girls.

Thanks again for your support - we can't wait for you to meet the girls!


small oval June 6 - Saturday: Washington, D.C.

AM - Today, the team got up early to cheer on runners/walkers participating in the Susan B. Komen - Global Race for the Cure . The girls were fascinated by the sea of pink, as well as the love demonstrated by volunteers who showed up early in the morning to help make this event possible for so many people. The girls were also deeply moved by the number of people participating in the race on someone else's behalf. The girls thoroughly enjoyed learning about the race and about the power of volunteerism in the United States.

AFTERNOON - We spent most of the early afternoon at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The best part was when we all put on our 3-D glasses and watched "The Deep Sea in 3-D." The girls giggled, squealed and reached their hands in front of their faces to touch the fish, but to no avail.

Iraq Team VisitAFTERNOON - At 3:00 we headed out to TOPSoccer which is a community based soccer training and team placement program that brings the opportunity of learning and playing soccer to any boy or girl, ages 4-19, who has a mental or physical disability. TOPSoccer was started in Arlington in 2002. The program's goal is to enable children with disabilities to become valued and successful members of the Arlington and Falls Church youth soccer family.

On the way to the field, Sports United (Beth) shared with the girls about the special needs of kids they would be playing with. She emphasized love, compassion, and selflessness and encouraged the girls to look beyond themselves and what is typically comfortable and familiar and to do whatever they could to help the kids experience success on the field.

Quite honestly, we were ALL blown away by how AMAZING the Iraqi girls interacted with the kids. Most of the Iraqi girls left the field emotionally drained and many of them shared with us that they had never met any kids like that before. They were heartbroken to see their disabilities, but happy they could share some love and encouragement with them.

Thanks again for your support - we can't wait for you to meet the girls!


small oval June 7 - Sunday: Washington, D.C.

What an action-packed, fun-filled, dream-come-true day!

Iraq Team VisitWhat an action-packed, fun-filled, dream-come-true day! Early this morning we left the city and drove north almost 2 hours to a beautiful youth camp site in Maryland. For the next several hours, the girls were challenged in many different ways as they took part in a Ropes Course led by a great instructor! It was fun to watch the team learn to solve problems together, learn to communicate better, and learn to trust one another ­ seemingly for the first time ever! The experience was meaningful on multiple levels because the instructor did such a great job making strong connections between the challenges they 'conquered' on the Ropes Course and playing basketball as a team. They really enjoyed it and we¹ll never forget their faces when they actually accomplished their goals or overcame their fears!

After a quick lunch, we loaded up the bus and made our way back into the city and straight to the Verizon Center. Taking them into the arena to watch the Washington Mystics play against the Atlanta Dream was absolutely magical!!!! The girls wore their WNBA Cares shirts, took lots of pictures and enjoyed eating popcorn, nachos, cotton candy, and cokes. After the game, the Atlanta Dream invited the team into the waiting area for families and friends of the players. The girls took pictures with several of the Dream players, including former Lady Vol - Chamique Holdsclaw! They were star-struck and absolutely LOVED getting to take their pictures with famous female players. We asked them what they thought about the game and one player said, ³I can¹t even say anything. I have no words. The players are so good and it was so cool to meet them and to get our pictures with them. I will never forget this ­ it¹s what I¹ve always dreamed of since I started playing basketball. I still can¹t believe it¹s real?I¹m convinced it¹s just another dream.² Today was AWESOME! We are so happy for them and now, two of their three dreams have been fulfilled: (1) to visit the United States (2) To see a WNBA game....now the only thing left will come in only two more days.... (3) To say thank you to Coach Pat Summitt for her support, encouraging words, and basketball equipment.

small oval June 8 - Monday: Washington, D.C.

Quick update and few pics:

Iraq Team VisitToday marked another busy, fun-filled day! George Mason University graciously hosted our team this morning for a Nutrition/Stretching/Strength Training Seminar and a two-hour basketball clinic with Coach Jeri Porter. It was a great opportunity for the girls to practice before their first game on Wednesday. The local news also came and three of the girls were interviewed. They did an AMAZING job articulating what this experience has meant to them thus far. Although the piece did not capture all of their sentiments, it still captures a glimpse of what this week has meant to them. After lunch in Southside cafeteria (WOW - so tasty!), Craig Esherick, former men's Olympic basketball coach and professor of Sport Law at George Mason, spoke to the team about Title IX and the significance this legislation has had on women's sports in America.

At 6 pm, we boarded the bus and headed to a local park where the girls were able to try their hand at Bocce ball. It was a HUGE success. They clapped, smiled, and cheered the entire time (2 hours). Afterwards, they jumped on the swings and begged for their pictures to be taken. They played on the slides, climbed to the top of the playground apparatus, and cracked up on the teeter-totter. Life and laughter was found in the smallest details tonight.

Thanks again for all your support. We look forward to arriving in Knoxville tomorrow to make the second half of their trip as magical as the first.

small oval June 9 - Tuesday: Knoxville, TN

Iraq Team VisitThe girls arrived in Knoxville and were greeted by a group of local church members who wanted to make their arrival into Knoxville special. The girls were so surprised to see a large banner reading "Welcome to Tennessee" with full size Iraqi and Kurdish flags attached to each side of the sign. After taking some photos in front of the sign, each girl received a rose - they felt loved and a little bit like "rock-stars." After arriving at UT and getting checked into their dorms, we walked to Panera for dinner. Rizgar, the male coach who received his visa late, met the girls there - we hadn't told them that he was coming so it was a big surprise! They were SO excited to see him!!!! The girls were happy to finally be in Tennessee and to start playing basketball!

small oval June 10 - Wednesday: Knoxville, TN

*At 8:30am, we met in the courtyard and Brent, a member of a local church who wanted to help out, brought the girls a large fruit basket, juice, and Panera bagels for breakfast - they enjoyed the goodies and were grateful for Brent's kindness.

*At 9:30am, we registered the team for camp. Following registration, we walked to meet Laura Stetler and Glenda Noe in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. Laura provided baked goods and the girls are eating that this morning for breakfast....yummy! Thanks Laura!

*At 10:00am, we met up with Stephanie and Lauren with Lady Vol Marketing who took the girls on a tour of Neyland Stadium - they loved seeing the field, but especially the locker rooms - particularly Khoshi and Shamam, who were convinced that if the helmets were just a little smaller, they had a legitimate chance at winning the Heisman Trophy.

Iraq Team Visit*At 12pm, we ate pizza in the courtyard and rested until 2pm. At 2, we walked to the Tennis Complex with the rest of the teams and took part in the welcoming ceremonies led by Coach Pat Summitt.

This moment was absolutely magical! I'm pretty sure Ashleigh and I teared up more than a few times! Coach Summitt announced that 38 states and 1 foreign country were represented. When she said, "Iraq" people clapped, but you could tell they weren't really sure what she had said - people were whispering, shrugging and gesturing uncertainty at the announcement. Coach Summitt asked all coaches to come to the front so that they could introduce themselves, as well as their teams. Rizgar, Khoshi, and Shaman stood in front of the campers and families. When it came time for Rizgar to introduce the team, he said, "My name is Rizgar, we are from Iraq. Thank you - we are honored to be here and God bless you all." Then the team stood up - everyone went wild - they cheered, whistled, and clapped for the girls. It really was a special moment - they were embraced and that was a great feeling for the girls and Rizgar!

We played 2 games last night - we were so proud of the team! They played great, but fell short in both games by only 4 points in each contest. The girls took the losses very hard, but are ready for 3 games and a media frenzy today.

Thanks again for all your support - we're happy to be home at UT.

Rainey (from KY now)

small oval June 11 – Thursday: Knoxville, TN

After 2 really tough losses yesterday, the girls came out today with brand new attitudes….and it showed! They won the first game by 19! – wish you could have seen their faces! They were so excited – it was like they had won a gold medal for their country! The second game marked their second victory and now they were holding their heads high with a record of two wins and two losses…”respectable,” they said.

Iraq Team VisitAt 4:00pm, we met in one of the classrooms on campus for a press conference with Pat Summitt and Holly Warlick. There were several media outlets present, including several television camera crews (for more… visit S4P In the News). Pat Summitt spoke with enthusiasm for the Iraqi team’s presence at camp and complemented their competitive spirits. I think what impressed all of us the most was the way she opened up the press conference. Her opening statement was something like this, “Let me just first of all say, I cannot take credit for anything today – the people who deserve the credit for this amazing initiative are the people sitting around me and my Associate Head Coach, Holly Warlick. I just agreed to whatever they asked of me and then showed up to meet these remarkable young women from Iraq. I am so proud of them and they are living proof that basketball teaches young girls to become strong women and productive members of their society. We are honored to have them at UT and hope that they have a great experience in Knoxville.”

small oval June 12 – Friday: Knoxville, TN

Iraq Team VisitToday was the last day of team camp and what a great way to end it….we won our last game and the girls were ecstatic! After our game, we all got cleaned up and went to Calhoun’s on the River for a late lunch/early dinner (thanks to Dee Haslam for this wonderful meal!) The girls ordered orange juice, chicken fingers or hamburgers, and everyone got french fries….they love those little fried potatoes! After Calhoun’s, we took them to Wal-Mart so that they could begin the souvenir/gift buying process. The purpose of the late trip to Wal-Mart was to give them an idea of what prices are and what things were available for them to buy for family and friends…and 3 and a half hours later, we loaded up the vans and headed back to the dorms!

small oval June 13 – Saturday: Knoxville, TN

Today started early. At 8:30am, friends from a local church picked us up and we headed toward the Smoky Mountains. Bob, one of the Smoky Mountain’s leading experts, joined us for the entire day (thanks so much Bob!). After some photos at a beautiful waterfall and a hike back down the mountain, we enjoyed a quick picnic and loaded the bus again to venture into Pigeon Forge for some good ‘ole southern outlet mall shopping! Surprisingly, we didn’t lose anyone! And, everyone got their shopping finished – lots of gifts to purchase for family and friends back home!

After shopping, we finished the day out with a family-style fried catfish and chicken dinner “with all the fixin’s” at Huck Finns in Pigeon Forge. Yummy – it was hilarious, the girls LOVED the hushpuppies and they loved saying, “hushpuppy” just as much as they enjoyed eating them. We can’t thank the owners of Huck Finns and UT graduate student Joey Moore for providing the meal and for an amazing time of socializing with strangers that somehow became friends by the time the evening was over.

Iraq Team VisitWhen we arrived at Huck Finns and took our seats, the Huck Finns musician fired up his guitar and sang what has become a familiar tune to the girls, Rocky Top! While he was singing, the girls started clapping and singing along – they got everyone in the restaurant involved too! After a great meal, Joey and his family asked Rizgar to come up to the front of the dining area to introduce the team. Rizgar thanked everyone for their warm hospitality and told them, “Iraq is grateful for the sacrifices Americans have made so that me and my people could be free.” It was a moving speech…and obvious that everyone appreciated Rizgar’s words. After Rizgar thanked the people, the girls joined him in the front of the room. They decided to sing a famous Kurdish song and perform their cultural dance for everyone. It was amazing! Everyone in the restaurant clapped in rhythm with the girls and gave them a standing ovation when they were finished. Rizgar said, “Before we were free from Saddam Hussein, we were not dancing. No one was dancing. It’s not that we were forbidden by law to dance; it was because there was no reason to dance – everyday was like a never-ending funeral, but today, thanks to the help of our American friends, we have a reason to dance and to celebrate a freedom that we never had before. We say now, ‘more dancing, less bombing.’ This time people were not only clapping, some were crying….

On the way out of the restaurant and after the owners of Huck Finns gave each member of the team a gift bag full of Huck Finns goodies, they asked the team to go to the gift shop area where a gigantic map was hanging. Joey told the girls that they ask everyone who eats at Huck Finns to place a push-pin into the map indicating where they are from….they asked the girls to do the same. The girls were so proud to have the only pin placed on the country of Iraq and once again felt so special for who they are and where they are from. Thanks again to Huck Finns and all who made the team feel loved and accepted! The bus ride home was quiet for the most part – everyone was exhausted…seemingly that is, until someone asked, “Can we visit an American church tomorrow?” The question opened up a lively discussion and every single player and Rizgar expressed how much they wanted to attend a local church service….

small oval June 14 – Sunday: Knoxville, TN

Iraq Team VisitNothing says Sunday morning in the south like visiting a Southern Baptist church! Per the request of the girls to attend an American, Christian church on Sunday, we loaded up several vehicles and headed west to First Baptist Concord. The girls decided to attend the Sunday School class rather than the main service because they wanted to see what church is like for youth their age. The lesson on Sunday was The Last Supper and the importance of communion. After the lesson, the teacher asked Khoshee to translate while several of the students in the class asked the Iraqi team about school, church, family, and sports. During the question and answer, one of the students in the class asked if the Iraqi girls thought American boys were cute. Of course, everyone cracked up when the Iraqi girls said no. After Sunday School, we sat in the lobby for a while chatting about the lesson and about church. Khoshee said it was very interesting to learn about the Last Supper because she had just finished studying it in school. Others said that they really enjoyed the experience but were surprised by the informal nature of the Sunday School classroom. Others said they thought the people at church were nice and they were glad they went.

After church, we headed back to the dorms for Mariana’s surprise birthday party. We had cake, gifts, and of course, party hats! Several other athletes from the camp wandered into the lobby while we were celebrating and helped us all start the birthday song for Mariana. We sang it in Kurdi and in English. Later, we cleaned up and the girls prepared for their first night of individual basketball camp.

small oval June 15 – Monday: Knoxville, TN

Iraq Team VisitToday was the first full day of individual camp. The girls have transitioned really well to being on separate teams. Even though they are exhausted, they are in great spirits. They are making so many new friends. Several players and coaches have been asking the girls about life in Iraq and how to say phrases like “good job” in Kurdish and/or Arabic. It is so cool to watch the Americans embrace the Iraqis in this way. Today, several parents have come out of the stands to thank us for choosing their daughter to play on the teams with the Iraqi girls. One mom told me, “We thought we were just coming to basketball camp, but we were blown away to meet players from the other side of the world, especially from Iraq. My daughter has learned so many new things. She is coming over on her breaks to teach me new phrases in their language. She now has a friend from Iraq because of basketball.” For parents to see the value of this cultural exchange through sport is very rewarding for us. It is a celebration of why Sport 4 Peace exists.

small oval June 16 – Tuesday: Knoxville, TN

Iraq Team VisitTuesday was another long day of grueling drills and games. Despite the exhaustion, the girls were like sponges, soaking up all the information. While on break, I asked Khoshee what she thought of American basketball camp. She said basketball in America is so different from Iraq. Fundamentals are not a part of basketball in Iraq like in America. More time is spent on playing games, instead of improving skills. She tells me she has learned so much and that she is very excited to go back to Iraq to coach and compete. It will be exciting to watch Khoshee and the team take what they have learned at camp and apply it at home. They are learning from the best. What an opportunity.

In the evening session of camp today, the girls were scheduled for an autograph session, a tour of the locker room, and a question and answer session with the Lady Vols coaches and players. After getting autographs, several of the girls were sitting with their teams in the tunnel outside of the locker room, waiting to take the tour. During this time, Darrya begins teaching her coach how to count in Kurdi. “Yuck, dough, say,…” she says as her coach repeats. This lesson goes on for about ten minutes while the crowd around Darrya, the coach, and I gets bigger and bigger. Then one of the girls pipes in, “what kind of music do you like?” I of course could not pass up the opportunity to tell them Darrya is a wonderful singer. “Really?” she says. “Can she sing for us?” I urge Darrya and the crowd starts chanting her name. Darrya starts the beat by tapping on the ground and then busts into a traditional Kurdi song. At this point, I’ve heard the song several times, so after a couple of solo verses, I chime in. Then the other girls start to dance, so Darrya and the Iraqi team grab hands and show them a traditional Kurdish dance with song. Before long, everyone waiting outside the locker room, including coaches, is huddled in a circle, holding hands, dancing Kurdi style while Darrya sings lead. When one of the managers comes out to let the next tour group in, the other campers actually sigh in disappointment. It was so funny to me that these American campers who had traveled hundreds of miles to meet the Lady Vols and check out the locker room were actually disappointed that the Kurdish dancing was interrupted by a locker room tour. How funny!

Iraq Team VisitAt night, after camp was over, Coach Summitt and her staff invited coaches and counselors to attend a dinner at one of the local Knoxville restaurants. After a quick shower, Sarah and I headed to the dorms to pick up Rizgar, Khoshee, and Shamam. Khoshee was too tired, so she stayed in for the night, but Rizgar and Shamam were eager and ready. We jumped in the car and headed to the restaurant. When we arrived, we saw that most everyone had already made it inside. The place was packed. We entered the front door and headed up the ramp to the seating area. Immediately to the left, sitting at the front table, was Coach Summitt and her entire staff. As Rizgar, Shamam, and I walk in, Coach Warlick stops us for what I believe to be a brief conversation. After all, there are 100+ other people in attendance, all vying for some attention from the Lady Vol staff. While chatting with Coach Warlick, Coach Charles-Furlow grabs two chairs for Rizgar and Shamam. Coach Warlick and Coach Summitt ask Rizgar question after question about life in Iraq. The conversation lasts for over an hour! Other coaches begin to gather around the table. Sarah, Juli, and Vicente, all camp coaches of our Iraqi players, were recapping their experiences of the week and marveling at the improvement by the Iraqi players in such a short time. By the end of the conversation, everyone at the table, plus all of the coaches gathered around the table were packing their bags for next summer’s trip to Iraq! By the end of the night, Rizgar had earned himself a hug and a genuine display of respect and care for the people of Iraq from the single, most famous women’s coach in America. He was beaming from ear to ear. It was an unforgettable moment for all of us.

small oval June 17 – Wednesday: Knoxville, TN

We just returned from an amazing evening at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame! The team enjoyed pizza, cake, and ice cream, as well as a private guided tour of the exhibit hall. We couldn’t help but notice the look in their eyes as they walked through the history of women’s basketball in the United States. We wanted to ask them what they were thinking, but decided to remain silent, at least for the time being.

After the tour, the girls picked out souvenirs in the gift shop, took one last round of photos, and thanked Mrs. Dana Hart for her wonderful hospitality at the Hall of Fame. We jumped in the two vans and headed back to campus in the pouring down rain. On the way, I asked them what they thought about the Hall of Fame. Khoshee translated for her team, “We loved it. It was so cool to see Coach Pat, Coach Holly, and Coach Daedra. I can¹t believe we really know them and they invited us to the Tennessee camp. We love them all so much. That part was super cool!”

I asked them, “Do you think women who played basketball in America had it easy for all those years?”

Iraq Team VisitThey responded, “No, Mrs. Dana told us that things were not easy for the women, but they kept trying so hard anyway despite all the obstacles because they loved playing basketball so much.”

“Do you think the female players in America kept playing so that they could be in a museum someday?” They all laughed at me and said, “No, of course not. They were playing because they love basketball.”

I wondered if they could make any connection for themselves. I asked if I could tell them a story:

“A long time ago in 1975, before any of you were born, there was a team of women who proudly played basketball for their country. They were young, strong women who loved basketball very much. They traveled outside their country and played against other nations, but then one day something terrible happened.”

This grabbed their attention. They all leaned forward and tried to drown out the noise of heavy rain pouring down on the van.

“One day, the ruler of this nation decided that the government should no longer support women’s sports. From that day on, girls and women were discouraged from playing. It was a cultural decision and for a long time, competitive sports for girls were abandoned. Nearly ten years passed before the government decided to change its policy again. The rulers changed their mind because they believed that women could give them more chances to qualify for and earn medals in the International Olympic Games, thus bringing more honor to the country. Girls and women were excited to begin playing again, but they were sadly disappointed, even devastated, by the actions of one of the cruelest leaders in the country. The head of the Olympic Committee, who was also the ruler’s son, tortured the male athletes for losing games. He dragged them by their heels over broken glass; he forced them to kick a concrete soccer ball with bare feet until all the bones in their feet were shattered; he put them in coffins and buried them alive for several hours at a time.”

“What about the women? Did he do anything to the women?” Zhi asked.

“Unfortunately, yes, he brutally raped the women. There were even times when he would ask the families to send their daughters to him and if the fathers refused, he sent men to murder members of the family. It was a terrible time in their history and girls and women stopped pursuing their dreams in sports because it was not worth the heavy price they paid. Another twenty years passed…”

Shamam interrupted, “Please tell us this story gets better.”

“Yes, much better. The ruler and his sons were overthrown and girls and women began gaining more freedoms. They even started playing sports again. They started to dream again. Some of them decided to attend a camp last year in the north of their country to learn more about basketball...even though they faced many difficult obstacles in order to attend the training. They braved very dangerous checkpoints. They listened to people ridicule them for attending a camp held by Americans. They overcame gendered verbal slurs hurled at them by family members and local community members. Yet, they went anyway, because they loved to play basketball. And while at camp, they were given the chance to record their dreams on a note card. All of the girls wrote down three things.”

By now, most of the girls caught on to my story, but they seemed no less interested.

All 60 of the basketball campers wrote down that they wanted to travel to the USA, to attend a WNBA game, and to thank Coach Pat for the basketballs and inspirational videotaped messages she sent for them.

The girls all started clapping, cheering, and bouncing up and down. Their dreams had become a reality and they were finally beginning to see the significance of their choices.

“I am proud of every one of you. You are brave and strong; and although you are not aware of it now, you are the ones writing the modern history of women’s basketball in Iraq.

And just like the women you learned about at the Hall of Fame tonight, you are overcoming tremendous obstacles of your own. You have suffered years of hardship; you are enduring years of war; yet, you are still the ones building the future of women¹s basketball for all Iraqi girls who come after you, because, just like the women in the museum, you love to play basketball! Maybe one day in twenty years, you will invite a female team from America to come to Iraq; and while they are guests in your country, you might take them to visit the newly built Iraqi Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. You can tell them stories about the obstacles you overcame, the years of war and uncertainty you faced, and the cultural barriers you constantly challenged. You can show them your photographs and your retired jerseys hanging from the rafters of a women’s basketball history museum that you were a part of creating. This is our dream for you. This is our dream for Iraq. Never stop dreaming, look at how far you have come already!”

The team fell silent as they didn’t say much more on the way back to campus.

Once we arrived, Khoshee spoke up, “Sarah and Ashleigh, you are right! We are making our own history and you are helping us to see that. We want to represent our country with honor, integrity, and pride ­ seeing Coach Pat and the beautiful history of women’s basketball in Knoxville and at the Hall of Fame has made us to believe that we can do anything we dream of doing! We will never stop dreaming and we will one day make our country proud.”

The girls cheered after Khoshee got done speaking and celebrated with one another by giving high-fives and singing traditional songs. They got off the bus dancing and singing, hopeful for a brighter future for girls and women’s sports in Iraq. We are sad that tomorrow is their last day in Knoxville, but what a dream come true for ALL of us!

Sport 4 Peace would like to thank the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences for sponsoring the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame banquet. We would also like to thank University of Tennessee women’s basketball program, the Department of Exercise, Sport, and Leisure Studies, Dee Haslam of RIVR Media, Kathy Hubbard of Bridges of Understanding, Dana Hart and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and other individual donors who contributed. Sport4Peace would especially like to thank the U.S. Department of State SportsUnited. Without this unique partnership, this project would not have been possible.

small oval June 18 – Thursday: Knoxville, TN

Iraq Team VisitWhat an amazing 15 days with our new friends from Iraq! They changed our lives more than we ever expected. Our prayer is that they take all of their experiences home and share them with family, friends, teachers, and teammates. It was sad to see them leave today, but we know we’ll see them again soon and we’ll never forget the ways they brought joy and love to the hearts of everyone they met.