UM’s Mansfield Center Sends Six Montanans to Laos for Sports Diplomacy Exchange

March 02, 2016

MISSOULA –The Mansfield Center at the University of Montana will send six professionals from Montana to Laos next week as citizen ambassadors in a sports diplomacy program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. 

Funded by the SportsUnited Division of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, this Mansfield Center project uses sports as a medium for supporting underserved populations in Laos, including ethnic minorities and youth with disabilities. The following six professionals were selected to comprise the team traveling to Laos based on their expertise in the fields of traditional games, adaptive sports and youth facilitation:

  • LeAnn Dolly-Powell, vice president of unified strategy, Special Olympics Montana;
  • James Laskin, UM associate professor of physical therapy and director of UM’s Applied Exercise Physiology Laboratory;
  • Samantha McLeod, youth mentor, Special Olympics International;
  • Paul Phillips, Native games specialist, Salish Kootenai College;
  • Sherene Ricci, specialty instructor, Missoula City Department of Parks and Recreation;
  • Brett Taylor outdoor recreation specialist, Missoula City Department of Parks and Recreation.

During the two-week trip to Laos March 12-26, the American delegation will work with local youth workers, sports professionals, K-12 schools and ethnic minority communities to promote positive youth development through sports. The program will focus on team-building and inclusive activities that promote collaboration, community engagement and healthy lifestyles for youth at the grassroots level. The program also will focus on building environmental awareness by addressing issues such as clean water and conservation in schools and communities. The team aims to extract valuable environmental lessons out of culturally informed games and healthy living demonstrations while also supplying necessary equipment for practicing healthy water consumption and waste reduction. 

“Sports diplomacy has emerged as an integral part of efforts to build relations between the U.S. and other nations,” said Mansfield Center Program Manager Melissa Wardlow, who will accompany the group. “This type of diplomacy employs a universal passion for sport and play to transcend linguistic and sociocultural differences, establishing lasting connections through activities that promote leadership, teamwork and healthy communication. The Mansfield Center is honored to be part of such international diplomacy efforts.”

The exchange is an opportunity for the American team to promote positive cross-cultural relationships with their Laotian counterparts, building lasting connections that will continue during an exchange visit by a team of eight Laotian participants to Montana in October.

“I appreciate the tremendous potential for mutual understanding and information exchange between our two countries,” Taylor said. “This program is particularly valuable given the potential for ongoing cooperation between our two countries.” 

The SportsUnited Division of the U.S. Department of State emerged to support sports diplomacy’s ability to increase dialogue and cultural understanding among people from around the world. Supported programs expose foreign participants to American culture while providing them with opportunities to establish lasting connections and partnerships with their U.S. peers.  In turn, Americans learn about foreign cultures and the challenges young people from other countries face today. Since its inception, SportsUnited has involved thousands of people from more than 100 countries in similar sports exchanges. The Mansfield Center is honored to be the sole recipient of SportsUnited grants in Montana. 

The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at UM promotes better understanding of Asia, U.S. relations with Asia and ethics in public affairs, in the spirit of late Montana Sen. Mike Mansfield and his wife, Maureen Hayes Mansfield. The center supports programs that focus on the people and cultures of modern Asia and ethics in public affairs – the core interests and hallmark issues of Mansfield’s career.

For more information on this SportsUnited exchange or to request interviews with participants, call Deena Mansour, Mansfield Center associate director, at 406-243-2713. More information also is online at and

Contact: Deena Mansour, associate director, UM Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, 406-243-2713,