By Tara Cavanaugh
Last Friday’s football game at Skyline was packed with students, families, local community members and some special out-of-town guests.
Ten Israeli and Palestinian visitors who are taking part in the International Visitor Leadership Program were at the game, learning about American athletic culture.
The U.S. Department of State invited the visitors to participate in the program in hopes that they learn about American athletic culture, sports programs and management at the adolescent and collegiate levels, and sports for women and girls.
The travelers work in athletics or nonprofits and are visiting the country for three weeks. After spending time in New York, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, they spent a day at Skyline, where they talked with Athletic Director John Young and team coaches.
“What I find is that the seriousness, the way people talk about sports here, is different from back home,” said Daniel Kessel, co-founder of an Arab and Israeli tennis organization. “Everyone seems to know here about the education and the benefits of sports.”
Kessel glanced at the cheering stands, full of students in sky blue and a thumping marching band. “I saw a a movie once about American football,” he said. “The feeling here seems quite similar!”
“Professionals in my country don’t even have this atmosphere,” said Liran Girassi, founder of a youth soccer league.
Yael Weiss was one of three women on the trip. Wearing a Skyline athletics t-shirt, she said she was especially impressed to learn about the accessibility of women’s sports in the U.S.
“Women play some sports (in Israel), but not professionally,” she said. Weiss, who also has a black belt in karate, added she thought it was really cool that the Skyline varsity football team has a female kicker this year.
Weiss works with an organization called Mifalot that has two missions: to provide athletics children in low income areas, and to help connect different groups of people, such as Arabs and Jews or Israelis and Palestinians.
Connecting Israelis and Palestinians is a key part of the trip, as five Israelis and five Palestinians travel the U.S. together.
“It’s been great,” Kessel said. “There’s been a bit of times where there was some conflict. We had one political conversation that was a bit emotional. But overall it’s been very interesting.”
After their visit to Ann Arbor, the travelers are moving on to Lansing and San Francisco. Their trip concludes Sept. 15.
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