From March 18–26, a delegation of Trinity University faculty and students and personnel from other universities and organizations engaged in meaningful cultural dialogue while shooting some hoops in the Republic of Uzbekistan for the Youth Leadership through Sport program.
The mission was simple: Travel to Uzbekistan and play some basketball with others who share the same passion for the sport. But the results were even better than swishing that final buzzer-beating shot: international cultural exchange and transformative connections made despite the language barrier.
Under the auspices of the Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs / Sports Diplomacy Division, Jacob Tingle ’95, Ed.D., chair of Trinity’s sport management minor and assistant professor of business administration, served as a delegate representing the U.S. Department of State's Sports Diplomacy Program in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He was joined by three current Trinity students, one December 2022 graduate, and Angela Breidenstein ’91, M’92, Ed.D., professor and chair of Trinity’s Department of Education.
The other delegates included two faculty from the University of the Incarnate Word, the director of Education Initiatives at the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County, and two faculty members from East Carolina University. One of the two East Carolina faculty was Stacy Warner, Ph.D., a professor of sport management, who earlier in her career, served as Trinity’s assistant director of Athletics for Events and Facilities.
“It was hoped that the U.S. delegates, and our friends, would develop an understanding of how sports can enhance leadership skills and serve as a positive influence in our lives,” Tingle says. “It was also hoped that we would have a better understanding of each other’s culture and a greater respect for diversity. In my opinion, we hit both of those objectives.”
The delegation conducted basketball clinics for 11 young women from Fergana and Andijan, Uzbekistan, who had visited Trinity last October, and an additional nearly 200 Uzbek students (aged 12 to 18) and coaches. They also led two clinics for professional club teams with players on the Uzbekistan National Men’s and Women’s Teams and worked with the Uzbekistan National Team Head Coach to develop opportunities for future exchange. The delegation served on a panel at the U.S. Embassy for 25 Uzbek high school students wanting to pursue higher education in the U.S. At this session, the delegation was greeted and introduced by U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Henick.
Reese Wallace ’24, a Tiger women’s soccer student-athlete, took on an important role during their time at the embassy. One of the Uzbek high school students wanted to become a member of Yale University’s summer program, but, because of red tape, he was not granted a visa.
Wallace, who majors in psychology and minors in sport management, befriended the young man, and here is what transpired.
“We started talking about soccer,” Wallace says. “I showed him a video of our game with Pomona-Pitzer (California). He couldn’t obtain a visa for the summer, because he applied too early. I noted this to the embassy’s cultural affairs officer, and she was able to get a new appointment for him, and a visa is pending.”
Breidenstein, who heads Trinity’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, was impressed by Wallace and her fellow students’ actions throughout the trip.
“We were told to think of ourselves as ambassadors,” Breidenstein says. “I, therefore, thought of every interaction as a moment when we were representing our country, our institutions, and ourselves. I believe we were also representing ideals of peace and understanding. I was really proud of our students for their leadership.”
Breidenstein says her proudest moment was when she walked onto the basketball court in Tashkent and saw the young women who had visited Trinity last October.
“One group took a taxi for four hours to get there,” Breidenstein says. “They got in the taxi in faith, and we kept our promise by being there. The other group was brought by their coach, who quickly became a colleague and friend.”
Emily Ellis ’22, a former All-America Trinity volleyball student-athlete, had a chance to be a host for the women when they visited the University’s campus.
“When they were here, I had the privilege of interacting in a leadership workshop,” Ellis says. “I helped develop some of the programs. Seeing those girls again was really encouraging and impactful.”
The trip provided Ellis with the opportunity to reconnect with these young women on their home turf and learn about Uzbek culture from them. In addition to language lessons, these young women took the Trinity delegates to eat traditional meals (e.g., Plav) and helped them learn so much about the selflessness and community spirit that weaves through Uzbekistan.
This reunion would not have happened if not for The Basketball Embassy in San Antonio, along with PH International, and the State Department, who helped make this trip to Uzbekistan possible. Ellis hopes to become a part-time coordinator for The Basketball Embassy, which provides basketball instruction and youth leadership development to players, coaches, and organizations throughout the world.
Chris Dial, CEO of The Basketball Embassy, who also serves as the head men’s basketball coach at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, reflected on the impactfulness of the trip.
“The sessions and practices were themed with intangible concepts like integrity, respect-valuing education, and perseverance,” Dial says. “It is my goal, and the mission of The Basketball Embassy, to be a resource for communities like those in Tashkent. The power of sport is an incredible thing.”
The main themes of the trip, in addition to basketball, were youth leadership development and cultural exchange. Tingle says basketball “was a tool to facilitate the dialogue.” The delegation’s visit coincided with Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and all of its bright and energetic festivals. The holiday commemorates the coming of the Spring Equinox, which is an important time in Uzbekistan and other Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. Seeing the festivities for the three-day period and being in Uzbekistan for the first two days of Ramadan was particularly meaningful and helped the delegation learn much about the values and beliefs of the Uzbek culture.
“Everyone we interacted with in Uzbekistan was so welcoming and kind,” says Meyer Maddox ’22, a current MAT student. “Most of us had no idea about Uzbek culture and traditions, but we learned so much by being immersed in them. We were able to share part of this experience with those who asked about it after we returned.”
In the end, shooting hoops and sharing culture helped Trinity faculty and students and Uzbek students and coaches make lasting connections on and off the court.
“I walked away with a better understanding of cross-cultural communication and a renewed appreciation for the impact of sport bringing people together,” says Molly Sheridan ’23, a two-time soccer All-American, who majors in global health and international studies. “It was a great reminder of using sport as a platform for appreciating and understanding differences between people, places, and cultures.”