Written by: Scott Rosenthal
Coming off my first time working an event with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, I have to say I am unbelievably shocked at the amazing cultural and memorable experience I had last week. From July 1-4, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission hosted its own, authentic event, the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health International Youth Sports Festival. This event encompassed approximately 3,500 athletes from 16 countries all under the age of 18. For 4 days, kids from all points of the globe had the opportunity to play, interact, socialize, shop and tour the city of Cleveland and its suburbs for not only the first time in most of their lives, but with others of similar ages from countries of vastly different cultures. Beginning in 2006, the tournament first only held soccer games, but has since evolved to baseball and for the first time this year, basketball. Over 150 soccer teams made up the soccer portion of the tournament. All the athletes were lodged at John Carroll University (a local university in the Cleveland suburbs) with gameplay taking place at four different athletic venues around the Cleveland area. With an Olympic-style Opening Ceremony on the first night, where hoards of citizens from the local communities even came out to be a part of the festivites. It was truly a cultural experience that was greatly executed through superb planning and follow through.More personally, my responsibilities proved to give me a week that I will never forget. One of the country’s participating in the boys basketball tournament was the small Carribean island of St. Lucia. With only approximately 170,000 citizens, a week-long trip to the United States served to be an experience that the players and coaches would never forget. With such excitement and fervor for their youth basketball teams’ participation, St. Lucia decided to send seven of their dignitaries to not only watch their boys participate, but to take part in valuable conversations with the businessmen of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission in finding ways to utilize sports in their country by partnering with the city of Cleveland. My job was to be the ‘escort’ to these seven dignitaries and ‘ambassador’ to the city of Cleveland. As a 20 year old college student, getting to spend a week with such important and caring people from a culture different than my own was truly a blessing. Each day, we would watch the St. Lucia basketball team participate in the games, and then spend the rest of the afternoon and evening touring Cleveland and the other venues of the tournament, while concluding the day with a nice dinner at one of Cleveland’s finest restaurants, as influentials from Cleveland, St. Lucia and other countries participating in the tournament all sat together at one table discussing sports as a mechanism for improving quality of life. Each night, I had the great opportunity to sit at a table with men and women from Puerto Rico, Italy, Columbia just to name a few. The collaboration and dinnertable conversations were incredibly intriguing and valuable for all involved, as sports proved to be able to positively connect cultures on a foundational basis. It was truly incredible to be a part of.As the tournment concluded and the St. Lucian dignitaries I became so close with began to depart for home, I actually felt a bit sad to leave them — spending day and night with such nice and caring people from a country much different than my own was not intimidating or uncomfortable in the slightest sense. The connections I made with these great people will last forever, as we have already stayed in touch since they have returned home. All in all, the tournament was a great success for all the players, coaches and families involved — but extremely special for me as I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a week of such quality and superb people from cultures different than my own.