Montana basketball teams still on the court for Central America exchange program

Posted at 5:09 PM, Apr 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-10 20:12:46-04

MISSOULA — In July, a delegation of Montana players and coaches visited El Salvador for a week to hold basketball clinics for more than 160 players, coaches and referees as part of a U.S. Department State-sponsored trip.

This week, the second part of the exchange trip continued at the University of Montana.

Twenty-seven coaches, players, and refs from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have been at the University of Montana this past week learning the ins and outs of the game of basketball from some of the best in the state.

Former Griz and Lady Griz players and coaches, as well as current players, have been attending and running the training sessions.

“I think for all of us, being on scholarship sometimes we forget how lucky we are to be here, and this really just reminds us how blessed we are to be here. To pass on the knowledge and teach other people is pretty special,” said Lady Griz sophomore Sammy Fatkin. 

While the 27 basketball enthusiasts are getting some great advice from top-notch players, the goal of the week is much bigger than growing their skills.

The exchange program is based on the idea that introducing the game to at-risk communities that are vulnerable to violence or crime can steer youth populations away from that and ultimately better the community.

“At the Mansfield Center, that’s really at the heart of our mission, is bridging people’s cultures, countries in order to solve some of our world’s most pressing issues,” said program director Kelsey Stamm Jimenez.

“The administrators of the sports in Honduras, let them know that sports is a great option to grow values in the young people there,” said Edy Chavez, a referee on the trip from Honduras. 

And it’s not just the Central American players taking away important lessons from this week, but the Montana players, as well.

“I think it’s amazing to see. It all comes back to the whole part of being a part of something bigger than yourself. So, seeing this and being reminded of how big it actually is and how big of an impact the game can make is really special,” said Fatkin.