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This spring, Teach For China teamed up with the National Football League to introduce American Football to several of our placement schools in Yunnan. Three Fellows–Will Keleher (Fellow ’11, Georgetown University), Ben Cutrell (Fellow ’11, Gettysburg College), and Wang Yaoming 王耀明 (Fellow ‘11, Zhongshan University)– have been hosting weekly practices for their students. Read Will’s report below on how students have been flocking to the game–and how it’s given girls at his school a rare chance to build life skills through sports. 

The NFL flag football progtwram we’re implementing at our school has already

Fellows Will Keleher and Tim Worm talk their students through the basics

impacted many students and brought a lot of happy memories. The amount of interest among students, and within the community in general, for football caught us by surprise. We’ve played with elementary students, our own middle school students, and have even played catch with local teachers who were curious about the strange ball. The level of excitement and enthusiasm is incredibly gratifying. Even though we’ve limited participation in our regular football practices to members of Classes 73 and 76, the two 7th grade classes at Heqing Number Two Middle School taught by Teach For China Fellows, the number of participants still far exceeds our supply of equipment. It’s a good problem to have!

We hold practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays between students’ two periods of

Ben Cutrell shows videos of American football to his students to introduce them to the game

evening study hall, as well as a longer practice on Sunday after they get back from visiting their homes and before their Sunday evening class. The program is still very much in its early phase, so we continue to receive new interested students and catch them up on the basics as quickly as possible. At each practice we generally spend a few minutes tossing around the football and working on basic technique, after which we run a drill that’s more similar to a real game. So far, we’ve have the students run routes with quarterbacks and receivers, played games of “tag the flags,” and done possession drills with two teams, a football, and the flags.

My favorite part about the program is the opportunity that it’s giving girls to participate in a sport. At our school, as in other parts of rural China, girls have few opportunities to participate in sports. The male students at Heqing Number Two

Flag football has given girls at Heqing Number Two Middle School a rare opportunity to participate in sports, building self-confidence and teamwork skills

Middle School dominate the basketball courts and the ping pong tables. Though many of the girls at our school are interested in playing basketball, would love to learn to play soccer, and would excel at volleyball, they are prevented from joining their male peers because of persisting gender inequality at the school. On a few occasions I have helped kick male students off the basketball courts to give the girls a chance to play, and they greatly enjoyed the opportunity. Apart from missing out on this chance to enjoy themselves, female students also miss opportunities to build important life skills like teamwork and perseverance that would boost their chances to succeed both in and out of the classroom. Seeing the girls running around, vying with each other to catch a ball, and doing their best to throw it as far as they can has been incredibly exciting for me. I’m really looking forward to working with the girls more and giving them the chance to compete in five vs. five games.

Our school’s flag football program is only a few weeks old, but we’ve made remarkable progress so far. At the beginning, most students and teachers had no idea what a football was, and we still attracted groups of perplexed onlookers whenever we hold a practice. We’re still working on basic skills, and have transitioned into short scrimmages between teams of five. I’m genuinely excited to progress onto full games and start to build a real sense of competition. One of the other Teach For China fellows implementing the flag football program, Yaoming, is also located in Heqing, and we’re already planning on having inter-school games. In the coming weeks we plan to screen game footage for students so that they can see what they’re working towards, and I can’t wait to start hosting full games between the students!

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