Senegal Basketball Girls Meet New Heroes: The Lady Vols


Our Senegal Basketball visitors spent ten unforgettable days in Knoxville becoming true Tennessee Volunteers. These 15 to 18-year-old French-speaking basketball players trained with UT athletics, engaged with students in university classes, ate at KFC (their favorite), and cheered louder than anyone else in Thompson Bowling Arena during two Lady Vols basketball games.


During their first few days, they explored the beauty of the Smoky Mountains on a day hike and visited the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame – a highlight for most of the team.

“This (WBHoF) is not something we have in my country,” said Coach Henriette, the first female basketball referee in Senegal. “We don’t know what you all had to go through to play basketball, so that was a very good experience for me.”

IMG_6394Once the week began, it seemed these girls never stopped! They spent time in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex working on their endurance and strength with Coach Heather Mason, learning ACL prevention techniques from UT’s Jenny Moshak, and trying some homemade peanut butter and protein smoothies from nutritionist Allison Mauer. And of course, they played a lot of basketball.


In the afternoons, they visited a few after school programs including Girls, Inc. and the YWCA. At Girls, Inc. the Senegalese team transitioned from students to teachers as they were asked to lead the girls of Girls, Inc. in a series of basketball drills and games. This was a great opportunity for the Senegalese team to showcase their leadership abilities and to serve as role models for the younger girls participating in the after-school program.

IMG_7386On the last day, at end of the last Lady Vols game, these girls had a surprise in store for them. Lady Vols Strength Coach Heather Mason ushered them down stairs, past curtains, and through doorways until they had reached the locker room of the Lady Vols. Their excitement could hardly be contained, and as soon as the first Lady Vol entered the room, our girls burst into cheers, hugs and tears. When the first emotional wave had passed, the girls circled around the locker room to show the Lady Vols their team cheer. Before long, the two teams were dancing together, despite language and cultural differences. Through their love for basketball, they were united.

IMG_6846We will miss the energy and eagerness these girls had for anything we planned for them. From them, we have learned to appreciate each other in new ways, and to remember that we don’t need to share a language to share our love.

The Sports Visitors program is a part of the Empowering Women and Girls through SportsInitiative through the U.S. Department of State. As facilitators of these programs and cooperative partners of the grant, we carry out the planning and implementation to make sure these athletes and coaches receive training andresources that can help them become strong women in their communities.

“17 Voices. One Story.” Video Launch!

At the close of the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, our team put together a video of interviews we collected to show on the final day of the program.

We want to say a big THANK YOU to the mentor organizations who took 3 weeks out of their hectic schedules to spend time with our emerging leaders, helping them develop their action plans and sharing cultural experiences with them that extend beyond the walls of their office building.

A Lasting Impact in Action!

Our emerging leaders all successfully completed the 2012 U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program!

All of our ladies, with the help of their mentors, finished their action plans. Some totaled over 70 pages listing vision, mission, timelines for implementation, networks and financial resources. They shared their plans with each other with 10-minute power-point presentations, then celebrated a couple days later with a formal luncheon at the State Department!

Now they have bid farewell to the U.S. and returned home, but the story doesn’t end here. This past month has been full of great memories of the women bonding together as sisters and encouraging each other in this challenging step forward. The work starts now, and we trust the rewards will come with a future of girls who feel strong, confident and empowered to reach their goals without letting cultural norms bring them down.

17 strong women. 17 countries about to be turned around for the better.

Isn’t that incredible?

Just begin to imagine when their visions start to take root and gain momentum, the impact that these women’s action plans will have not only in their communities, but around the rest of the world.

This is their mission.

To create opportunities for young girls to develop their skills and talents through weekly Basketball Training sessions.

To address a lack of respect for women and girls and subsequent inequalities facing female footballers by providing adolescent girls with equal opportunities to participate in high performance football development and competition programs.

To create a values-based swimming academy for ages 11 to 16 to empower girls and women to reach their potential and strengthen their communities within a nurturing environment.

To create a Commission in the Russian Olympic Committee dedicated to strengthening positions of female athletes and female ROC employees by developing their professional, educational and networking opportunities.

To provide disadvantaged young girls with exceptional opportunities to develop their confidence, improve academic performance, maximize their personal potential and strengthen the community using sports as a tool.

To face gender inequality by introducing legislation that will give all Brazilian girls the right to learn and practice sport in schools and colleges, similar to U.S. TITLE IX.

To develop sports opportunities for girls at the borders of Colombia by introducing the GoGirlGo! curriculum and Ultimate Frisbee.

To develop a social enterprise that will provide various sport services and to embark on projects that will uplift the economic plight of the National Athletes and promote sports and fitness nationwide

To empower women and girls with life skills through sport workshops, tournaments, leagues and focus group forums.

To set up a program dedicated to giving girls ages 9-11 more opportunities to play basketball and advance their lives. The program will provide a healthy and positive environment for girls to get more active, confident, and become more involved in the community.

To create a CSR program dedicated to empowering women through sports in my local community and educating them to have a balanced life.

To address gender imbalance in the media and empower more women in the male-dominated field.

To empower women with leadership skills through sports initiatives in a creative and healthy environment.

To partner with the SOS children’s village in Lagos to provide a sports curriculum for the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School through the introduction of basketball.

To create and implement educational and promotional programs for development and popularization of DanceSport in Republic of Tajikistan and using it as means of physical education.

To empower girls in my local community ages 8-12 to be “Strong, Smart and Bold” through the use of sports and life skills development.

To empower the young girls in the rural areas to develop their personal attributes, develop their potential and strengthen their communities.

Vermont: Donna Carpenter (Burton Snowboards) & Ilina Arsova

Our final stop in Vermont couldn’t have been timed better. The colors of the leaves changed from green to bright oranges, reds, and golds, the company hosted a “Bash” for employees around the world, and, of course, our Emerging Leader had designed her very own snowboard that was finished! After three weeks, it was high time we met our final match – Donna Carpenter, Founder and COO of Burton Snowboards, who mentored Ilina from Macedonia.

Ilina is an adrenaline sports enthusiast. She is a professional mountain climber, ski instructor, paraglider, and artist. In her words, she loves “feeling connected to the altitude, to the fresh air, and to the purity of nature.” Ilina uses her experiences on the mountain to inspire her artistic creations. Through mixed media, paintings, drawings, video, and installations, Ilina promotes ecological respect, discouraging pollution and overconsumption. She often re-uses materials considered waste and turns them into creative works of art. Her work has been shown all over the world, including China, Malaysia, New York, and Europe.

In addition to her artistic accomplishments, she is also the most respected female mountaineer in Macedonia. She holds the record in her country for the highest climb and most difficult assent. “Mountaineering is very fulfilling; I have learned a lot of lessons about how to survive. But also how to be grateful for the life we have and appreciate what is around us. Nature teaches us not only how to survive, but how to live.”

Donna and Ilina share a sincere appreciation for the great outdoors and a strong desire to increase women’s participation in outdoor sports. At Burton Snowboards, Donna started a Women’s Leadership Initiative to recruit, retain, and promote more females in the industry through mentorship. This professional experience is exactly what Ilina needs to jump start her own desires for more women to take part in the business of outdoor sports. Ilina’s vision is to organize the first Macedonian women’s expedition to climb the Himalayas and to encourage a younger generation of girls to take up adrenaline sports.

Looking back at each of the matches, we have a hard time believing what a great fit so many of them were. The personalities blended and balanced so well, the common interests and life stages that overlapped showed us the importance of getting to know each of these women – emerging leaders and mentors alike – the human side of a program that can so easily become limited by corporate structure and professionalism.

Connecticut: Tina Thornton (ESPN) & Grace Chirumanzu

At ESPN, we also met up with Grace Chirumanzu, a journalist in Zimbabwe and mother to be! At seven months pregnant, she was brave enough to leave her other baby son with her family to come here for an experience that she has been “waiting for all my life.”

She has been mentored by Tina Thornton, Senior Coordinating Producer at ESPN and the two of them really seem to be learning from each other, about work, life and trying to balance it all.

From an early age, Grace dreamed of becoming a star sports reporter. Quite a dream for a young girl living in a country where no female sports reporters existed. According to Grace, sports journalism is a field that many women avoid. In the newsrooms, women are either harassed or dismissed, which “discourages many women from trying.”

Currently, Grace is one of only four female sports reporters/journalists in the country. Through her blog and newspaper outlets, she continues to push for an increase in the quantity and quality of sports coverage for women and girls.“Women deserve to have their voices heard. I want to be the voice for the voiceless. I want to become the first female sports editor in Zimbabwe.”

As a reporter, Grace prides herself in uplifting female athletes, even when they have poor performances. “It is not my job to destroy someone’s personality, but to be constructively critical and to build them up.” The media has to highlight and inspire other women to take up sport and that won’t happen through condescending commentaries. Grace encourages other female reporters to “look past the laptop on which they are typing to the lives and the people that are going to receive it.”

The journey ahead will not be easy, but Grace is confident that this program has helped launch her back into her field with more enthusiasm and knowledge than ever. She said, “It doesn’t come on a silver platter, you have to work for it…and i’ll be doing that by working hard myself. If i’m to come here, spend one month away from my family, it should be a great example for my kids to know that this is not easy, but mommy is taking this opportunity because she is working hard and trying to better herself and her life and we should do the same.”

Connecticut: Rosalyn Durant (ESPN) & Nneka Ikem

After perhaps the most daunting part of our travel – a red-eye from LA to Connecticut – we were welcomed to ESPN by Nneka and Rosalyn, who quickly earned the “most likely to be long-lost sisters” superlative. We spent the day touring the campus, righty named as there are numerous buildings, walkways, and shuttle systems, not to mention their very own cafeteria!

As a child, Nneka loved sports. She played field hockey, basketball, and track and field. Nneka also had an independent mind. In her teenage years, she became “quite a handful” for her widowed father, who worked tirelessly at the local radio station.

To keep Nneka out of trouble, her father employed her at Radio Nigeria.At the studio, Nneka was initially responsible for transcribing BBC interviews and writing children’s programs.

After several months at the station, the Sports Producer approached Nneka and asked her to write five minutes of sports news every day. After that experience, Nneka was hooked; it was “all sports, all the time!” Now Nneka is the manager of Sports and Outside Broadcasts for the largest Radio network in the country.

Nneka wants to use her platform to educate young girls in her community and inspire them to become sports journalists. As a woman,“You have to empower yourself. You have to find the courage to rise above your challenges. And you have to bring up young ones to believe this, to have confidence to achieve their dreams. Mothers are responsible for this belief, for the education of the next generation. If you train a girl, you will have trained a nation.”

To help target poverty and issues of self-esteem, she hopes to build a basketball court at an orphanage that cares for a few of the 9.3 million orphans in Nigeria. “With basketball I could build that up in them, I could make them believe in themselves, I could tell them that if Nneka can be where she is today, all you little ones will grow up tomorrow and be like me.”

Rosalyn Durant, Vice President of ESPNU & ESPNHS, is undoubtedly a great match for Nneka. Rosalyn has extensive mentoring experiences and will be able to share ideas with Nneka about revenue generation for her Sports Broadcasting Company. Rosalyn asked for a sponge and we can safely say that Nneka is ready to soak it up and share everything she learns with the girls and women of Nigeria.

Los Angeles: Joan Coraggio (Saatchi & Saatchi) & Grace Kiraguri

Our next stop in LA was to visit Saatchi & Saatchi where we met up with Emerging Leader Grace Kiraguri from Kenya and her Mentor, Joan Coraggio. During their time together, these two have learned not only business strategies and cultural differences, but the Gangnam Style dance as well!

During our day together, we toured the ESPN SportsCenter set, and participated in the live taping of a Hispanic sports program.

Grace grew up in a rural village in Kenya with 8 brothers and sisters. Growing up, she never considered herself an “athlete,” but she always enjoyed playing sports and going to school. She credits her father for building her self- confidence because he supported her in both pursuits. “My father did the opposite of what African society thought was right. He educated us all. All seven girls. And because of him, I don’t see myself as a lesser human being.”

Grace completed her MBA at the University of Nairobi, with an emphasis in Marketing. After graduation, Grace was hired as a consultant to market a large sporting event in Kenya, something she never thought possible.

Through that experience, Grace realized the potential of sports marketing as a career and launched her very own Icon Sports Marketing Corporation – quite an incredible feat for anyone, but most certainly impressive for someone who has no other female mentors in the industry.

“I had no clue how to work in sports marketing, but I did a lot of searching on the Internet. I googled as many U.S. sports marketing companies as I could find and became convinced that someone can earn a living by marketing sports. Every day, I just wake up and create my own sports packages but to talk to people who have actually done it would be so helpful.”

Due to her business success, Grace’s influence extends beyond the sports world; she has very much become the face of women entrepreneurs in Kenya and is a perfect fit for Saatchi and Saatchi. At Saatchi, Grace has learned about sponsorships, contracts, and marketing from “people who have actually done it” and done it very well.