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Game Changers

The Center for Sport, Peace, and Society knows that changing the world can start with basketball camp.

Put a basketball in the hands of a young girl, and you might think you’re just seeing someone dribble and shoot a ball. What you’re actually witnessing is a girl learning control that no one can take away from her. That layup is her confidence, her courage in the face of adversity, her determination to be better than the day before.

Place a soccer ball at her feet, and watch as she changes “never will” to “just did.” Step aside while she learns to conquer her small world today and the bigger one tomorrow.

Sarah Hillyer, the assistant professor who founded UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society with former assistant professor Ashleigh Huffman, knows that sometimes power has to start with empowerment. The center uses sports to promote cultural understanding, student learning, community welfare, and social change.

One of the most impactful ways they do this is through the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), an initiative run in partnership with the US Department of State and espnW. It pairs business mentors and international partners with emerging leaders from around the world.

GSMP’s mission is to provide training and resources for sports-based action initiatives in participants’ home communities. The program has trained 99 international sports leaders from 53 countries during its gender-equality exchange programs, forming a global network of advocates who promote equality and inclusion.

The training led GSMP alumna Geraldine Bernardo to help children in her native Philippines following a typhoon in 2013. Since basketball is one of the country’s most popular sports, she developed a partnership with Sony to build 118 new courts. Young players soon learned a crucial skill for their country’s recovery, teamwork.

“I thank the GSMP so much for helping me come back to the Philippines and discover my passion,” Bernardo said. “You can never live a life just for yourself. And this is my new purpose – to use sport to bring about peace and healing to girls and women in my country.”

“GSMP is the world’s top sports mentoring program for women and helps advance the status of underserved women and girls around the world through sports,” Hillyer said.

The ESPN Sports Humanitarians Awards named GSMP a 2018 Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award honoree. The ceremony will be broadcast on July 24 at 7 pm on ESPN.

Bernardo, who founded the Sport Management Council of the Philippines, is returning to the US to participate in the ENSPIRE Awards ceremony. She will be joined by GSMP alums Dima Alardah, youth project coordinator for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Iraq, and Cynthia Coredo, program manager for Boxgirls Kenya.

“Women who participate in sports see an increase in self-esteem, health, and well-being—which in turn creates a stronger community and world,” Hillyer said.

When Volunteers strive to make a difference, investment in individuals leads to the empowerment of many.