An experience like no other

June 15-21, 2006
An experience like no other
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Two Bishop Grimes students to represent the U.S. at the Friendship Games in Holland

It was a day last summer that Brooke Bonacci, a ninth grade student at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School, would never forget. Her mother, Carrie Bonacci, overcome with emotion after reading a letter from the People to People International organization, gave the letter to Brooke to read. Brooke learned that she had been chosen to serve as Sports Ambassador representing the U.S. at the Friendship Games in Holland in July. “I was so happy,” remarked Brooke. “My mom was crying and had baked a cake for me. I’m looking forward to learning about the culture in Holland, meeting new people and playing the sport I really like — basketball.”

Brooke’s interest in basketball began when she was four years old, when she began attending her sister’s basketball practices at St. Rose of Lima School. Her dad, Paul, coached at the school for many years. Since the fourth grade, she has participated in organized basketball at St. Rose of Lima School, and while in sixth grade, she was selected for the All Star Parochial basketball team.

Brooke recently completed her first year on the junior varsity basketball team at Bishop Grimes, where she led the team in three pointers. She also runs on the varsity track team at Bishop Grimes. “I like being able to excel at a sport,” said Brooke. “I’m learning new skills every day for defense and offense.” For the past three years, Brooke has played on the Syracuse Stars, a traveling basketball team. She believes that one of the coaches for this team nominated her for the ambassadorship position because of the good sportsmanship qualities that she exemplifies. A well-rounded player, Brooke cooperates with her coaches, is helpful to her teammates and plays good offense and defense.

The concept of the sports ambassadors program came about through the inception of the People to People program, developed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a path to international understanding. His presidency found itself caught up in a divided world that was careening toward global armed conflict.

In 1956, President Eisenhower called a special White House conference of American leaders. He asked them to join him in the creation of the People to People program. President Eisenhower believed that if people could visit each other’s homes, attend their schools and see their places of worship, then the misunderstandings, misperceptions, and resulting suspicions — which were making war a viable option — would disappear.

Soon after People to People was established, President Eisenhower decided that the spirit of the program would be preserved best in the hands of private citizens rather than with government officials. So, he enlisted the help of his friend Joyce Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, to launch People to People in the private sector. President Eisenhower realized the power of young people as future leaders. In 1963, Keith Tatham organized the first delegation of student ambassadors. From that time forward, the program has enabled thousands of American young people to travel across international boundaries. People to People encourages meaningful exchanges between young people of different cultures through official meetings, educational site visits and athletic competition, which create deep cultural understanding, probe a nation’s history and launch long friendships.

As a Sports Ambassador, Brooke will develop her skills through a training camp designed by Denver Nuggets assistant coach, Jarrin Akana to teach the fundamentals in overall offensive and defensive efficiency. Athletes can improve their footwork, ball handling, shooting and defensive agility skills, as well as learn more about the mental side of basketball. The training camp will force the athletes to be focused and physically prepared for international competition. During the training camp, each athlete will participate in a personal skill assessment by the delegation coaches. The remainder of the training camp is devoted to team practice. Brooke said she is looking forward to participating in the training camp. “I’d be able to learn more skills,” said Brooke. “I’d also be able to help out the other people on the team. As far as competing in the tournament — I’m looking forward to it. I know we are going to be playing against European-trained athletes — it’ll be a good competition experience.”

Kacy Carbone, a ninth grade student at Bishop Grimes, will also be representing the U.S. as a Sports Ambassador at the Friendship Games in Holland this summer. Kacy’s parents, Marianne and Bill, are very proud. “I was very nervous about Kacy traveling alone to Holland at first, but when I thought about what a lifetime opportunity this is, my fears lessened,” said Kacy’s mother.

When Kacy learned that she had been chosen to be an Ambassador, she was very excited. “I called my best friend right away, who thought it was awesome,” said Kacy. Kacy has been playing soccer since she was eight years old. As a seventh grader, she played modified soccer, and as an eighth grader she played junior varsity. In ninth grade, Kacy played starting defense for the varsity soccer team. “I play defense,” said Kacy. “As a defender, I am the last person in line before the ball reaches the goalie. I love it. It makes me feel powerful.”

The soccer training sessions in Holland will improve the athletes’ overall skills and expose them to different styles of play. Dutch National Soccer Federation trained coaches will lead one session of the training camp. The athletes will focus on footwork, passing and shooting skills, offensive/defensive strategies and techniques that are essential for their improvement on the field.

Even though Kacy will be participating in the training camp for one part of the day, she will use the remaining part of each day to visit Amsterdam and learn about the culture of the Netherlands. “I’m really excited,” said Kacy. “I’ve been researching things online.”

Both Kacy and Brooke have gathered almost the entire $5,000 fee that is required to participate in the program. They have been actively fundraising. Some of their efforts include securing sponsors, collecting bottles and cans, selling candy and hosting a golf tournament.

Anyone wishing to donate funds to help sponsor the girls’ trip may send a check payable to “People to People” and mail it in care of Marianne Carbone at Christ the King Retreat House, Brookford Road, Syracuse, N.Y. 13224.

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