Boston and Houston played host to a group of fourteen individuals from key sporting organizations and relevant government bodies from Ireland and Northern Ireland recently. The delegation included professionals from such diverse organizations as The Football Association of Ireland, the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Department of Culture, Arts, & Leisure in Northern Ireland. The visitors were in the United States to participate in a ten-day study visit examining issues central to sport and its interactions with the community such as visits to amateur, professional, and community sporting organizations that have successfully built social capital through sport. Particular emphasis was placed on community building, fundraising, educational outreach, and philanthropy. The study visit was designed and delivered by the Irish Institute at Boston College and funded through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Irish Institute’s mission is to support the peace and reconciliation process on the island through the provision of educational seminars and programs for public officials, business leaders, and educators. This is the tenth year in which their programs have received funding from the U.S. Government.
The Boston portion of the program began with a meeting to introduce participants to the importance of sports at the university level in the US with Gene DeFilippo, Director of Athletics at Boston College and Jody Mooradian, Senior Associate Athletics Director. The afternoon talk with Bill Littlefield, host of National Public Radio’s Only A Game, situated the role of sport in the American landscape and gave the participants a refreshingly candid account of what some of the problems areas are today in professional sport . The remainder of the week saw the Irish visitors meet with a variety of leaders in the Boston Sport community including Meg Vaillancourt, Executive Director for the Red Sox Foundation, Heather Walker of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Cummings, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Amateur Sports Federation and the Bay State Games, Teresa Soares-Pena, Executive Director of the community-based SquashBusters, and Sean Grant, Executive Director of the Irish Cultural Centre of New England, site of one of the largest Gaelic Sport facilities in the United States. Participants had an interactive seminar with Dave Czesniuk, Director of Operations for the Center for Sport & Society at Northeastern University, and toured the Reebok International Headquarters where they learned about the company’s sponsorship and promotion of community sporting initiatives from Christine Domoracki, Global Corporate Citizenship Manager, and Geri Noonan, Executive Director of the Reebok Foundation.
The second week of the program brought the participants to Houston, Texas where the lead-off meeting was with Hugh Tanner, member of the International Board of Directors for Little League Baseball Incorporated and found of the Challenger Baseball Program for mentally and physically handicapped children. That afternoon the group met with Janis Schmees, Executive Director of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. Dr. Clark D. Haptonstall, Director of the Sport Management Program at Rice University organized a number of panels for the participants including representatives from the professional teams in Houston, the Houston Rodeo, and the Houston Marathon. Having toured Minute Maid stadium, where the Houston Astros play, participants met with Pam Gardner, President of the Houston Astros.
To gain perspective on the challenges in “growing” an non-traditional sport, participants met with John Connolly, an organizer for USA Rugby, at Strake Jesuit, a highschool outside Houston. The final meeting was held at city hall with Mr. Doug Earle, Deputy Director for Recreation and Wellness at the Houston Parks & Recreation Department who spoke to the participants about the department’s many public sport initiatives and also the multi-sport use of various facilities and playing fields.
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For more information about the 2008 Sport & the Community program please contact the Irish Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org or (617) 552-4503.