December 9th, 2017
You probably saw the “Get Ready Belfast” and “Game On” Facebook posts the last couple months, and if you didn’t you either weren’t refreshing your page or you blocked me for posting so much. Regardless, the inaugural Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic featuring four American colleges occurred last weekend and being a small part of the preparation and execution of the event was an incredible experience. Not only was I able to get hands-on experience in an industry I wish to attain a job in, I also got to be apart of an event that welcomed and entertained nearly 10,000 people. The Belfast Classic however, was about more than just basketball.
Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting basketball to be as prevalent as golf when I moved to Belfast. Although I coach golf five times a week, basketball was seemingly the most important thing leading up to this event. Living in the city where the tournament was hosted meant engaging with the community as much as possible. This included going to various shopping centers and the Christmas markets to promote the event, helping with any administrative tasks and even assembling lanyards for the attendees. All of the tasks I helped complete were a crucial component to the event’s success, even though they were small assignments. I got to work alongside and witness a small Sport Changes Life staff tirelessly work on a basketball event many doubted.
But why? Why would people devote so much time and resources into a basketball event in Belfast, Northern Ireland where some say there isn’t the proper demographic. People here like football (soccer), not basketball. Like I previously mentioned, this event was about more than basketball. The Belfast Classic helped spark young people’s interest, not necessarily in basketball, but in sports in general because it enthralled them in a way they’ve never experienced before. The tournament brought together a once vastly divided city simply through the entertainment of several Division I college teams. Most importantly, this basketball tournament, from my perspective, was about drawing attention to the positive impact sport can have in a person’s life. I think of the young people in our eHOOPs program (most of them are roughly my age) we get to work with every Wednesday night. It’s been over three months since we began “mentoring” them, but we haven’t just mentored them. We’ve become friends with them by playing sports with them and working with them to gain professional skills and confidence. Seeing them front row at Friday night’s game cheering for teams they never heard of was priceless. They were enjoying the camaraderie and the banter just as much as the other fans and it was exciting to see how much joy and entertainment American basketball can bring to people who have never witnessed this type of atmosphere before.
Being at four games over two days definitely made me miss going to Siena games, but it made me so happy to see the young fans asking for players’ autographs, taking selfies with them and giving them high-fives. One of the most memorable things I saw was a kid, about 10-years-old, wanting to take a picture with one of the Manhattan players. I told the young boy I’d be right back and as I approached the basketball player to ask if he wouldn’t mind taking a quick photo with this young fan, I quickly glanced back and saw the biggest smile on the boy’s face. The Manhattan player took a selfie and chatted with the fan for a bit and the kid’s face was glistening with joy the entire time. It was in that moment that I realized the event was bigger than basketball and it didn’t matter that I’m a golf Victory Scholar and not a basketball one; I’m a Victory Scholar that got to witness the power of sport and help create a moment that will hopefully motivate that young boy for a very long time.
Congratulations to the Sport Changes Life team for planning, working effortlessly and hosting a monumental event. To watch you all work so hard on something you’re so passionate about was admirable. Thank you for letting me be a miniscule part of it and I look forward to the future success I know the tournament will have.