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World teen power on display

Scholar-athletes from 155 nations gathered last week to explore global issues and bond over everything from sports to the arts.

By Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor / July 6, 2006


It wasn't the Olympics, an international bake-off, an arts festival, or a battle of the bands. In fact, the fourth World Scholar Athlete Games was all of these and more.

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Some 1,900 high schoolers from all 50 states and 155 countries gathered here last week for a nine-day event hosted by the University of Rhode Island (URI) and sponsored by the Institute for International Sport (IIS) and the United Nations. It featured lectures from key thinkers, symposia on global issues, and opportunities to bond over everything from softball to symphony, track to theater.

"The point is to let us know there's more out there," says Mike Niles, 15, of Lincoln, R.I. "It's better than any summer soccer camp. What soccer camp has President [Bill] Clinton come and talk?"

First launched in 1993, the scholar-athlete games grew out of founder Daniel Doyle's travels as a basketball player and coach. Touring Europe and Cuba in the 1960s and '70s, he saw how sports fostered respect and understanding, even among children of different backgrounds.

His idea: Pool talent from around the world in one gym, one studio, one forum – and let fun do the rest.

New England's rainy weather broke Tuesday morning last week, opening up a sunny second day of the games. Hundreds of high school athletes suited up and hustled around URI's campus – their voices shouting in several languages and countless accents as they slugged, hurled, and kicked on the crowded fields.

On the sideline of a soccer game, Justin Woods and Aruna Sesay cheered on teammates, but after awhile, restlessness got the better of them. Justin booted a spare soccer ball into the air, tapped it with his knee, and head-butted the ball over to Aruna.

The two 18-year-olds had never met before, but joked that they had passed one another when Justin moved from Canada to Vietnam and Aruna left Sierra Leone to live with foster parents in Connecticut. "When everyone around you loves the same thing, it is easy to make friends. And we both love football – oh, I mean soccer," said Aruna, laughing after Justin corrected him.

With so many scholar-athletes participating in 23 activities, this year's games outgrew URI's South Kingston campus. Several groups had to pile into buses destined for other sites across Rhode Island.

"We are happy to have them," said Chef Gary Welling, who led the culinary arts group at Johnson and Wales University in Providence. "The mix of backgrounds is fun. It means we all get to try some home recipes from around the world."

Wednesday's cooking challenge: pizza.

The 13 student chefs had free rein of the kitchen. They scattered for ingredients and paired off for the preparation. Most students left the provided cookbooks behind, preferring to experiment.

Like all the scholar-athlete events, the cooking was more about camaraderie than competition. There were taste tests, but no losers, Mr. Welling said.

Grabbing extra Parmesan cheese, Rebecca Trythall laid out the ingredients for her Italian mother's pesto sauce. "Pine nuts, Parmesan, almonds, pepper, olive oil, basil, lots of garlic – we're good," the 18-year-old from Rome said to her partner, Mollie Bedick, 15, of Providence. "Now we just throw 'em all in the mixer."

Rebecca and Mollie giggled as the rumbling mixer spat small bits of pesto into the air.

The admissions process for Mollie and the other Americans felt like filling out a college application, she said, with essays, personal statements, and tuition fees. To increase the number of foreign students, the IIS did some recruiting. Rebecca said the US embassy in Rome sought her out.