Hope in the shape of a basketball court (#GoNNUCrusaders)
This past summer one NNU athlete’s passion for her sport drove her beyond typical summer training– it led her to the other side of the world. Taylor Simmons, a junior on Northwest Nazarene University’s women’s basketball team devoted part of her summer break to the building of a basketball court in Nyaravur, Uganda, a small rural community of 26,000.
Simmons’ first experience with “Courts for Kids”—a program which partners a recipient community from an impoverished part of the world with a team of volunteers to build a concrete sports court in that community—was in 2011 when she helped build a court in Tanzania. “Basketball has always been a passion of mine since I was little. To be able to combine it with a mission trip is a really special experience,” says Simmons. To form her travel group, Simmons recruited fellow Crusader teammates Katie Swanson, Ellen Ferrenburg, Cierra White, Leslie Warwick, and Kayla Schumann, team manager and fellow student Matt Veteto, NNU baseball player Will Reike, and three family members.
The team set off on May 13 and arrived 38 hours later after numerous flights and bumpy bus rides. “When we got to Nyaravur, we were greeted by this group of dancers and drummers and singers,” Simmons recalls. “They paraded our bus back into the court-site and performed a dance for us.” Next, the NNU guests were presented with various traditional welcoming gifts before participating in a groundbreaking ceremony. Afterwards, the real work began.
All construction of the court was done by hand. Without running water or concrete mixers, preparing the concrete was the trickiest part. Hired women carried water to the site from a well a third of a mile away, and the Crusaders, aided by local workers, mixed the concrete by hand with shovels and picks. Five days later the court was complete and 1,200 people attended an opening ceremony, all very excited to see this new strange sport. Simmons expected a few to have heard of the sport, but “It turned out that most of the community had never seen basketball and did not know much about it. We held a clinic to lay some groundwork of the basic skills. It was like starting at ground zero with everybody. ‘No, you can’t kick the ball. Rule No. 1, no kicking the ball.’”
With the court located next door to the local Catholic Church and the primary and secondary schools, Simmons believes that the court will provide many benefits for a region plagued with high rates of juvenile drug and alcohol abuse. “It will give the youth a safe place to play and a positive, healthy activity. That is really huge in areas like this where so many kids are getting into destructive activities. Numerous surrounding communities will also use it. It will draw people to Nyaravur and serve as a gathering place providing business opportunities.”
More importantly to Simmons is the hope provided: “The community we were in lacked electricity, running water, and plumbing. You ask yourself, ‘What can I do? Where do I even start to help these people and bring change to a community like this?’ But little things can make a huge difference. To be immersed in a foreign culture and have a connection through sports was really powerful. This concrete court may seem little in the grand scheme of things, but one little thing can bring a lot of hope to people.”
Beyond sharing her passion for basketball, Simmons highlights the trip as a time of spiritual growth and reward. “One of my favorite parts was being able to go out every day and play with the kids, work really hard on the court and then come back each evening and reflect with our team—to pray together at the end of each day and share openly about how we were affected by our experiences.”
“Sports, games, and competitions give common ground with foreign people that may not look or speak or act like you. Having this common ground opens the doors to show that we are all human. The faces of all of those children come to mind with this thought: God loves each and every one of us. Having been half way around the world gives me more of perspective of what that means and a greater understanding of the depth of God’s love.”