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Game Changers

Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman know that changing the world can start with a ball.

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.

The two assistant professors who founded UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society (SCPS), Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman, know that sometimes power has to start with empowerment. The women use 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), which pairs business mentors and international partners with emerging leaders from around the world. The group’s short-term mission is to provide training and resources for sports-based action initiatives in participants’ home communities. With a total of 50 women from 39 countries having attended the annual five-week workshop since 2012, the long-term result has been a global network of supporters.

“This 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.

GSMP’s training helped Geraldine Bernardo develop a plan to start rebuilding her native Philippines after a devastating typhoon in 2013. With corporate partner Sony’s support, Bernardo led the effort to restore a sense of community, health, and belonging to her country with the construction of 118 new basketball courts.

“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 an individual can lead to the empowerment of many.