MISSOULA – A cohort of 19 professionals and students from Montana recently returned from El Salvador where they served as citizen ambassadors in a U.S. Department of State youth sports diplomacy program.
The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana managed the program, which uses sports to bridge cultures and support at-risk youth in Central America. The Montana group spent eight days in July in El Salvador teaching basketball clinics to youths and coaches. In return, they will host youth and adult sports mentors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in Montana next April.
The Sports Diplomacy program helps build teamwork and self-discipline in youth that often lead to success in other aspects of their lives. Montana’s citizen ambassadors included several former Lady Griz and Griz basketball players. Drawing on their basketball expertise, the ambassadors shared the role sports can play in youth development while promoting technical proficiency among coaches, administrators and officials.
“I went to El Salvador thinking it was mostly about putting on some basketball clinics, but what I found is that it was so much more,” said Greta Koss Buehler, a former Lady Griz and WNBA player. “I learned about a culture that is vastly different from my own, met many wonderful people and realized that despite all the differences between our countries, I was able to connect with people through basketball.”
Kristy Langton Schlimgen, also a former Lady Griz player and current teacher and coach, took part in the exchange as well.
“This has been an incredible experience in every aspect – including the amazing time spent with the beautiful youth we were privileged to coach, the dedicated coaches who are working tirelessly to overcome many obstacles in an attempt to teach more basketball, the numerous fabulous sites we experienced and, lastly, the once-in-a-lifetime U.S. Embassy in El Salvador experience with U.S. Ambassador Jean Manes,” she said.
The El Salvador exchange was the first of four sports exchanges to Latin America under the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ International Sports Programming Initiative cooperative agreement. In May 2019, the Mansfield Center will offer a soccer exchange to Peru that focuses on girls’ empowerment and indigenous culture, with external partners implementing the other two exchanges to support Mexico and Columbia. The Mansfield Center is an established partner in Sports Diplomacy programming, having created similar exchanges in China and Laos.
UM’s Mansfield Center promotes better understanding of international relations and ethics in public affairs in the spirit of Sen. Mike Mansfield (1993-2001) and his wife and life partner, Maureen Hayes Mansfield. The center houses programs that promote global ties, leadership and ethics in public affairs – the core interests and hallmarks of Sen. Mansfield’s career.
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