Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Justin DeBerry ’04 is helping to bridge the sectarian divide between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland with basketball.

DeBerry, a former basketball captain and 1,000-point scorer at Lafayette, has been working since September at primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland. Joining a campaign that began in August 2002, he and other program directors travel to schools in Armagh, Belfast, Cookstown, Derry, and Dungannon, establishing in-school and after-school basketball instructional programs.

“I think what caused me to want to be a part of this organization was the number of quality people who I knew were involved with it,” says DeBerry, a history graduate. “It just seemed like a great opportunity to see Ireland and provide help to an area of the world that is divided.”

Program coaches also establish junior basketball clubs that enable students to practice and play on integrated teams. With three large tournaments per year, hundreds of Catholic and Protestant students participate in activities that teach the value of sportsmanship and competition.

DeBerry says organizing the tournaments is very stressful, but the opportunity to integrate large numbers of children is significant.

“One of my most gratifying moments came after completing a six-week gym class at one of our schools in Armagh. All of the kids in the class made us cards with caricatures of us coaching. The cards also explained how much it meant for us to be there teaching them this game that they know very little about,” he says.

Although the children are willing to play on the integrated club teams, their parents are not as receptive. Since parents are not present during the individual school sessions, they do not see the children’s satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.

“Many of the kids who come to our sessions have become comfortable and even friends with kids from different communities. They might never have had the same chance to meet one another if not for our program,” Deberry says. “At the community level, the fact that we are even here doing what we are doing changes their perceptions. They can no longer stay in their comfort zones of being prejudiced towards one another. When change for the better is taking place around you, it makes it difficult to stay set in your ways.”

DeBerry, returns to the U.S. this month, is working with Patrick Doherty ’04 on an outcomes and measurements project. Together they are distributing surveys to teachers and students who participate in twinning sessions, weekly practices in which Catholic and Protestant classes play basketball together. The goal of the survey is to measure the effectiveness and necessity of the sessions.

“It has been great working with Patrick,” DeBerry says. “We’ve had a great time over here.”

He says his academic and athletic experiences at Lafayette helped him adapt to a foreign culture. He specifically cites Alan Childs, professor of psychology; Robert Weiner, Jones Professor of History; and Fran O’Hanlon, head men’s basketball coach.

“My experience at Lafayette taught me how to absorb other cultures and ideas in a productive way. Learning about history allows one to investigate all different types of cultures at different points in time,” DeBerry says. “I have no doubt this has prepared me for living in another country. I use the drills and philosophies my coaches at Lafayette taught me every day when I coach. Their knowledge has been invaluable to my work here.”

DeBerry admits his future is “not concrete by any means.” He tentatively plans to return to Tucson, Ariz., and work for one year before pursuing an MBA at the University of Arizona.

“This will have been a great cultural experience along with a great [first] job to help me into the workplace,” he says.

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles