Venezuelans are catching basketball fever as their professional league enters the final stages of their basketball playoffs and the U.S. Embassy in Caracas is helping to generate even more excitement. The U.S. Embassy and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs partnered to send three standouts from American basketball teams to Caracas, June 16-21.
The evening of June 16, Venezuelan-born Greivis Vasquez, a National Basketball Association (NBA) rookie with the Memphis Grizzlies, tossed up the ball to start a key Cocodrilos-Gigantes playoff game before thousands of cheering fans and millions of others viewing the game on television. WNBA standout Kayte Christensen and Embassy Charge d'Affaires John Caulfield accompanied Greivis on the court.
Former NBA player Darvin Ham later joined Greivis and Kayte to host a series of basketball clinics for children from underserved neighborhoods in Caracas. Newspapers and television stations gave extensive coverage to the sports envoys teaching the kids basketball skills and speaking to them about the benefits of discipline, teamwork, and a healthy lifestyle. Kayte encouraged girls to be active and involved in sports. The clinic for 40 children with Down's syndrome was especially moving. At all of the clinics, after the serious work was over, the participants had fun competing for prizes for the longest shot, the most free throws, and more.
In addition to the sports clinics and team-building exercises, the players met with Venezuelan students, who are studying English through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' English Access Microscholarship Program. This program provides a foundation of English language skills to underserved youth 14-18 years old.
The enthusiasm of the children, their parents, and the public in general was evident everywhere the three sports envoys appeared. They envoys spent almost as much time giving autographs and posing for photos as they did working out with the youngsters.