PeacePlayers International's program in Northern Ireland is the only U.S.-based group that was selected for Prince William and Kate Middleton's Charitable Gift Fund in honor of their wedding. PPI was founded ten years ago by Washingtonians Brendan and Sean Touhey to get kids together in conflict-torn areas through basketball. The Tuohey's were honored by The Washingtonian as 2005 Washingtonians of the Year. Here is that story:
"Most the kids are nervous. Watching the fears subside and the spirit of competition take over is one of the best parts of my job."
What's a nice boy like Sean Tuohey, 29, doing in the back alleys of Tulkarm, a Palestinian village in the West Bank? Teaching 12-to-14-year-old kids to play basketball.
It's the first step in getting Arab and Jewish kids together on the basketball court as part of Playing for Peace, the program Tuohey started with his brother, Brendan, 31, in 2001 to use the sport to break down cultural and religious barriers.
Both Tuoheys played college basketball. After college, Brendan moved to Dublin in 1996 to play for the Tolka Rovers. He discovered that Catholic and Protestant kids never played together. They played different sports. And neither group played basketball.
Sean soon followed his brother across the pond, but he headed to Belfast. He began coaching basketball, mixing Protestant and Catholic kids on the teams. And it worked. Then a police chief in Belfast suggested that Sean organize the same kind of games in South Africa.
By this time, Brendan was back in Washington, coaching at Gonzaga. The Tuohey brothers raised enough money from family and friends to formalize the program they called Playing for Peace. Last summer, Sean moved to Israel to start Playing for Peace there.
Both Tuoheys work on it full-time now–Sean internationally and Brendan in Washington, raising money and awareness.
There are three secrets to the program's success, Brendan believes: Basketball is a neutral sport associated with no race or group; the kids are old enough to play but young enough so their prejudices aren't set in stone; and Playing for Peace runs year-round in their neighborhoods, so it becomes part of kids' daily lives.
Playing for Peace now trains and employs local coaches, includes leadership training for players, and has a grant to provide AIDS education for players in South Africa.
But for the Tuoheys, it's all about the healing power of the sport. In the first championship game played by mixed teams of Israeli and Arab kids, with ten seconds to go and the score tied, Samer, an Arab point guard, drove the length of the floor and passed to Ido, a Jewish shooting guard who put in the winning three-pointer just as the buzzer went off.
The real outcome? Everybody won.