Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #205

March 6 – March 12, 2016

Welcome to week two hundred five of the Sports Doing Good newsletter. This week’s 10 stories include:

  1. Former No. 1 in Indian tennis, now looking to heal the world with TV: Shikha Uberoi refuses to rest
  2. Life as a Young Athlete in Flint, Michigan
  3. “I coached an all-girls T-ball team. They taught me more than I taught them.”
  4. Being Paid to Play Basketball, Pat Connaughton Is Dreaming of Diamonds
  5. UK’s Big Man with the Bigger Heart: Marcus Lee Leaving His Mark in the Community
  6. Having Spent Years Empowering Others In The Sport, Melissa Stockwell Aims For Her Own Rio Paratriathlon Spot
  7. Female coaches unite for International Women’s Day to save lives using the power of soccer
  8. The Comic and the Ping-Pong Champ
  9. Far from Ghana, Providence’s Ben Bentil has found a home
  10. Inspired by childhood friendship, SMU’s Jonathan Wilfong runs nonprofit aiming to end illiteracy

Novak Djokovic, the Art of Good Timing
Rio schools ready to ‘Learn the Art of Fencing’
C.J. McCollum: Why Journalism Matters
The power of positive

In many of the stories we have featured in the past, there has been a person or persons serving as advisors, mentors, coaches, or just as a new friend for someone who may be in a difficult situation or facing tough circumstances. While the person helping out is certainly providing value, these are not one-sided relationships. In every situation we get a sense that the person doing the helping is also benefiting in significant ways. We have several stories this week that are indicative of that situation.

Whether it is former professional tennis player Shikha Uberoi, current college basketball star Marcus Lee, youth baseball coach Doyin Richards, Paralympic athlete Melissa Stockwell, female soccer coaches using the sport to change lives for the better, ping pong champion Wu Yue and comic Judah Friedlander, or SMU student-athlete Jonathan Wilfong, we learn about the positive feelings, increased knowledge, and increased motivation to do even more that develop in each of their situations. These individuals are not seeking out such benefits nor even expect them. But they are always there. And that is the beauty of “doing good” and helping others. We all can benefit, we all can win. They key is to continue to build on those positive situations.

The other stories we are happy to feature this week include: a look at the resilience being shown the by the residents of Flint, Michigan; the amazing potential of dual sport star Pat Connaughton; and the development of college basketball star Ben Bentil of Providence University.

Finally, we want to remind you that the Social Responsibility of Sports Conference presented by NYU School of Professional Studies Tisch Institute for Sports Management, Media, and Business is taking place tomorrow. For more information, please click here.

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So enjoy. And have a good week.

Former No. 1 in Indian tennis, now looking to heal the world with TV: Shikha Uberoi refuses to rest
Upon the completion of her program, she returned to India, determined to harness the influence of media to bring about social change. “I juggled accents, countenance, values, and principles. I broke my pieces of roti by hand, and effortlessly handled the chopsticks at business lunches back in America. Never have I had the identity crisis that most Indian Americans are doomed to have – because I made it a point to stay in touch with all facets of culture that my upbringing allowed me to, equally.” She co-founded the Indian wing of, and under its banner, began working on a concept that was a metaphor for who she was – ‘purposeful programming.’ Providing raw entertainment with the purpose of diving home pure social change was at the heart of her endeavour, ‘Kaun Banega Hero’ – a series of webisodes documenting astounding stories of unsung heroes. “Purposeful programming withholds immense power to catalyse change. It inspires people into action. My company endeavours to create awareness and entertain through storytelling.”

“This is me. This is who I am, and what I want to do.”

Life as a Young Athlete in Flint, Michigan
So why not leave? “Leave Flint?” he says. “It’s my passion. I love Flint. Any basketball player that has been successful from Flint has a connection they wouldn’t let go of. It’s like a fraternity. “We have a grit and grind about us that we’re all extremely proud of. We use that chip on our shoulder around the country to compete.” McLavish is planning a charity event that will bring former Flint players back to town to raise money for bottled water and raise awareness for the need to have the kids tested. And also to raise community spirits. He sees the community’s spirit and toughness as the way to fight back. It’s a toughness he teaches kids on the basketball court. It’s why kids from Flint have been affectionately called the “Flintstones.” But he also feels that the level of play in town has fallen through the years—maybe even the toughness, too. Some of Flint’s past players don’t come home anymore, either, but it’s important that they do, McLavish says. He wants them to come back to help. He sees it as continuing the battle for Flint.

“I coached an all-girls T-ball team. They taught me more than I taught them.”
When I was asked to be one of the coaches for an all-girls T-ball team in a league filled with boys, I didn’t know what to say. Yes, it would be fun to be a member of my daughter’s coaching staff and have her spend some quality time with her preschool classmates, but my mind started racing to other things…”The only all-girls team in the league? Wouldn’t it be intimidating to compete against boys every week? How could I possibly help these young ladies?” I thought. “Um, yeah, sure … count me in,” I said. I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for at the time, but I certainly do now that I have a few games under my belt. Here are three things I’ve learned while coaching my daughter’s T-ball team: 1. They reminded me how much words matter; 2. Contrary to what some people may believe, they aren’t interested in being “adorable” when it’s game time; 3. They demonstrate one of the most important traits any kid can have: resilience.

Meet the Westside Angels. All photos taken by Lauren Ravitz and used with permission.

Being Paid to Play Basketball, Pat Connaughton Is Dreaming of Diamonds
Connaughton does not play much. Few second-round draft picks do. For many observers, including the hopeful Baltimore Orioles, baseball is Connaughton’s better sport. “He has the talent to be a top-of-the-rotation guy,” Rick Peterson, the Orioles’ pitching coordinator, said in Sarasota, Fla., on Friday. “He has a major league arm, but just as important, he is a major league person, and that is a prerequisite. He has everything it takes.” Peterson helped usher in a golden pitching era in Oakland with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. He also worked closely with Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine with the Mets. But when he watched Connaughton throw a bullpen session in Sarasota in summer 2014, he witnessed something he had never quite seen before. “His fastball looked like no other fastball,” Peterson said. “It has the most unique late movement I’ve ever seen.”

Connaughton scored 7 points for the Portland Trail Blazers against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. Credit Elise Amendola/Associated Press

UK’s Big Man with the Bigger Heart: Marcus Lee Leaving His Mark in the Community
A McDonald’s All-American, Lee’s acts of kindness continued throughout high school. But it wasn’t until he enrolled at Kentucky that he fully grasped the pedestal he was on as a basketball player in Lexington, where the Wildcats are the most recognizable figures in the city. From the day they step on campus, Calipari encourages his players to become “servant leaders.” “These kids get here,” Calipari says, “and they realize how much power they have—how they can change someone’s day with a signature, a picture, a handshake, a hug.” I tell them, ‘You have the bully pulpit. What are you going to do with it? Fame is fleeting. Money has wings. How are you going to use your position to make a lasting impact?” Calipari has clearly had success reaching his players. Whether it’s Patrick Patterson befriending a girl with cystic fibrosis, Nerlens Noel taking Melton to the Kentucky Derby or John Wall breaking down on national television over the death of a cancer patient, new stories about current and former Wildcats surface each year.

After delivering lunches to a local Lexington, Kentucky, elementary school, Lee and his Kentucky teammates played kickball with kids from the school. Photo courtesy of UK Athletics

Having Spent Years Empowering Others In The Sport, Melissa Stockwell Aims For Her Own Rio Paratriathlon Spot
“I think in Beijing, it was all about the journey at that point. Four years prior, I had lost my leg and overcame that. I was really just proud to be there, represent the U.S. and honored to carry the flag during the Closing Ceremony. “This time around, I don’t want to just go and have a journey,” she continued. “I want to go, compete well and be on that podium. I want to look over at my 15-month-old son and know that there’s a lot of sacrifices and time away from my family that was worth it. My motivation is my family. It’s a family event, and I want to do it for them and for my country.” For the most part, Stockwell’s journey this time has been funded by a slew of sponsors; she no longer has to depend on her day job as a prosthetist to fund her athletic career. Stockwell’s all-around growth as an athlete has embodied the Paralympic Movement’s progression, almost on a parallel plane…“Paralympic athletes are becoming household names, much in thanks to sponsors and partners who have chosen to believe in athletes like myself and put them out there for the public to see in commercials, newspapers and the media.

Melissa Stockwell poses for a portrait at the NBC/United States Olympic Committee promotional shoot at Quixote Studios on Nov. 19, 2015 in Los Angeles. 2015 Getty Images.

Female coaches unite for International Women’s Day to save lives using the power of soccer
In its second year of existence, the five-day program includes education, empowerment and soccer training and will culminate in a soccer and Mine Risk Education (MRE) festival for 200 local Cambodian girls, led by the female trainee coaches and attended by senior representatives from the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the US Department of State. Traveling from Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and across Cambodia, the women – ranging in age from 18 to 50 – will take part in an intensive schedule of education workshops on risks, behaviors and historic information about mines and ERW; on-field sessions that enable the messages to be learned in engaging ways; and tours to mine/ERW clearance sites and government entities responsible for clearance and surveying. Most of the women are students, soccer coaches, or instructors for local NGOs and work with children that are at daily risk from the millions of unexploded bombs and landmines that litter South East Asia. Because of the huge popularity of soccer in the region, it is a powerful way to attract children and communicate vital safety messages.

The Comic and the Ping-Pong Champ
“One thing I do know about is performing under pressure,” Mr. Friedlander said. So he told Ms. Wu how he stays calm onstage. “You’ve got to not care, and you’ve just got to do it,” he said. “I told her, ‘Just play, don’t worry about winning. If you’re thinking about winning and the pressure, then you’re not in the moment. You’re not in the zone. You’re not in the flow.’” In this way Mr. Friedlander has played something of a sports psychologist’s role, according to Sean O’Neill, the director of communications for USA Table Tennis, the sport’s governing body in the United States. He also called the comedian an excellent player with a keen understanding of the game, who has been Ms. Wu’s “No. 1 supporter.” “The support he’s given her has definitely allowed her to play more within herself and at ease,” Mr. O’Neill said. “He has just given her great encouragement and helped promote her.” At a recent lesson, Ms. Wu bounced lightly on her toes, trading strokes with Mr. Friedlander, who was a bit winded and had sweated through his T-shirt. He planted himself a distance from the table, to better field her faster shots. At times, they whizzed by him in a linear blur, but occasionally he would hit his own dazzling winner.

The comedian Judah Friedlander and Wu Yue, who is bound for this summer’s Olympic Games, at Spin table tennis club in Manhattan. Credit Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

Far from Ghana, Providence’s Ben Bentil has found a home
The basketball part is great and all. So is the education. But those things could have been predicted. For someone with Bentil’s ambition, his success in sports and academics isn’t a surprise. What no one could have expected was the other thing he found in America: a new family. A new mother who tried to make him feel at home by cooking a special Ghanaian fish-head soup. (“She tried her best,” Bentil said. “She had the right ingredients.”) A new brother in Austin who played basketball with just as much intensity as Bentil. (Someone always bleeds when the two play one-on-one.) A new family he feels comfortable to be silly with. (There are many, many dance parties.) “It doesn’t take a last name, it doesn’t take DNA, it doesn’t take blood to be someone’s child, or someone’s mother, or someone’s father,” Ursula Tilghman said. “It’s how you take care of someone. I don’t call him anything different than my son. If I brought you into my home, you are my family.”

Ben Bentil picked up basketball late, but that hasn’t stopped him from leading the Big East in scoring. Mark L. Baer

Inspired by childhood friendship, SMU’s Jonathan Wilfong runs nonprofit aiming to end illiteracy
CFL chose neon green as its brand color, and Jonathan hopes that within the next decade, “every time, and everywhere, you see neon green, you think of literacy.” It’s a problem that doesn’t have a face other [causes], like cancer, do,” he says. “I want us to wear neon green so everyone feels connected in this fight, and people know there’s a national effort to increase literacy.” At Memphis Central’s 2013 graduation, Herron crossed the stage as an LSU football commit, and the Wilfong family looked on proudly. The Wilfongs stay in touch with Herron, now a junior defensive tackle for the Tigers, who recorded 23 tackles, including two for losses, in 2015. They check in on each other three times a week through texts and calls, with Herron a full-time supporter of CFL. “Around the world, there are a lot of people who don’t know how to read,” Herron says, acknowledging that it might be tough for kids to admit a weakness. “What I would say to them is, asking for help with a problem, that’s being strong. Learning how to read, it can give you another start.” Reading, Herron says, changed his life. And he sees the long-term impact of it every day, when he comes home from football practice and is greeted by his feisty, bubbly 2-year-old daughter. Failynn Herron prefers books about Dora the Explorer, and her father’s favorite time of day is when he tucks her in bed, and snuggles up next to her with a book. But the best part, he says, is when “she reads to me.”

(video,  Caption: By leveraging the unique power of collegiate and professional sports, Coaching for Literacy raises money to support effective local literacy programs and schools focused on educating elementary and middle school students. This 3 minute video explains what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.

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