An urban basketball court in Leon, Nicaragua.

The Common Denominator.

“Tom Brady? Teddy Bruschi? The Patriots, right?” These were not the questions I expected to be asked at the small, humid border crossing between Guatemala and El Salvador. And yet here stood the imposing guard, looking much like the former NFL linebacker himself, glancing at my American passport and rattling off football names like a New England native.

Immediately all of my preconceived notions of the country shifted. In 2011 El Salvador had one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world; two of the most notorious international gangs run out of the country, and the US Department of State warns travelers of violent extortion and kidnapping rings operating out of several prisons. When planning a trip to Central America this summer, you might understand why El Salvador did not top my list of countries to visit; I definitely didn’t expect a welcome into the country that included inquiries about my local American sports teams.

After a semester interning at Sport in Society, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. As a program that recognizes the power of sports and the “extent to which its worldwide audience cuts across gender, race, and socioeconomic lines” I knew the connections diverse groups make over kicking a soccer ball or cheering for familiar athletes. But tired, sunburned, and backpacking so far from home, I hadn’t expected to experience that connection in such a powerful way. In my mediocre Spanish, and his slightly better English, I learned that the border guard had a friend who had lived in Lexington, MA and recognized Boston in my passport. This opened a conversation about general sports, and then popular local surfing, and ended with the guard recommending a visit to an international surfing competition along the coast of El Salvador.

Travelling internationally as an American can inspire a host of different reactions, but when names from the New England Patriots are the first thing mentioned by a government security official, you realize just how universal sports are. It’s especially amazing when you consider the worldwide appeal of football vs. futbol, a topic that particularly incited debate when America’s gold medal potential in the World Cup was proposed.

Toward the end of my five-week trip, my first serious journey abroad, I had talked not only the Patriots, but discussed the culture of machismo in bullfighting, kicked around “soccer” balls made of wrapped up plastic bags, and read proud articles about successful Panamanians playing Major League Baseball. In part due to these real life experiences that contextualize the work we do here, I had also made the decision to dedicate more time to utilizing the “power and appeal of sport”; at the end of my summer vacation I chose to return full-time as an intern and facilitator with Sport in Society.

No matter where these experiences occur, either on a dusty field in Guatemala City or crowded basketball courts in Roxbury, I think everyone who witnesses the universality of sports can understand the potential for using that to create social change and I can’t wait to see what this next semester brings!

Here I am

Here I am, finally! It has been a long summer. I happily accepted this Coop at Sport in Society during the last leg of my sophomore year at Northeastern University. Since starting here, I have been trying to explain, and failing, what exactly my job entails. It has been nearly three weeks since myself and the other co-coops started here at SIS, and I finally think I am at the point where I can somewhat describe what I do.
My time here is split three different ways, two days a week, I am at the East Boston and the Wang YMCA, and on Thursdays I am at the Belvedere Sport in Society office. Our roles at the YMCAs are to work closely with guidance and direction with the Teen Directors of the Ys as consultants, resources, and program developers. Often times however, the directors at the Ys are so busy that I am forced to step up and follow through with my own projects; which I fully embrace. 
My schedule ensures every work day is different, which is great for me considering I’m generally not one for structure. I have been working closely with fellow Coop Rachel Shanley, as she is also stationed at the East Boston and Wang YMCAs. Working with Rachel has been great, we share similar interests and have been very successful in communicating and working towards common goals.
The Wang and East Boston are not alike, and the differences are very stark. East Boston has incredible amounts of space along with beautiful new facilities but smaller number of teens for programming, whereas the Wang is the opposite, boasting great numbers of teens while being completely starved for space; they also have much more antiquated facilities.  Initially, I focused on how I could partner East Boston and the Wang in a way that is mutually beneficial, but I have yet to come up with a solid solution thus far. However, I have been in contact with a number of different organizations in an effort to try to build community partnerships with organizations such as The New England Aquarium, The Boston Cannons, and The Reebok Foundation, among others.
This process has been extremely fun and beneficial for me. Talking to these large organizations under the strong brands of the YMCA and Sport in Society have allowed me to gain instant credibility when contacting them, and have aided greatly in my quest to broaden the scope of teen programming at the Wang and East Boston. Just yesterday I was contacted by the Reebok Foundation about a possible grant for the Wang.
The Chinatown Y is placed near the center of Boston, just a two minute walk from the Boston Commons. The facility has a large space on its roof with rubberized flooring that would be fantastic for a number of ball sports and activities, unfortunately the walling is only about 5 feet high, meaning there is great danger of sending balls over the side and hitting cars. Therefore, this space is wasted due to the lack of a literal “safety net” that would stop anything from flying over the edge. Without this space all the Wang has for physical activity is a basketball court, a pool and a spread out gym, which is simply not enough for the number of memberships they have.  This prompted me to give the Reebok foundation a call and left a message explaining the predicament and I am now in the process of working out a proposal that could potentially get the Wang a free net. I am extremely excited to keep working and making a noticeable difference at the Wang and East Boston.
So here I am, at Sport in Society, making a difference!