During their visit to Cuba, the Fall 2014 voyage was invited to play the University of Havana in men and women‚Äôs basketball. These games served as the first to take place in the renovated Ramiro Valdes Daussa sports center, which was damaged by a hurricane four years ago. Both the men and women donned jerseys that read ‚ÄúUSA‚Äù, a gift generously provided by the University of Havana. As the players changed into their jerseys and came out onto the court holding the American flag, a symbol of the academic sponsor‚Äôs home country, it was evident this game was about much more than basketball. This celebration of national pride and sport brought together two nations that are often separated by political differences. Playing in front of large crowds supporting both teams, the energy in the sports center was almost palpable. See below for women‚Äôs team captain Shabree Rawls‚Äôs experience representing Semester at Sea and her country on the Cuban court:
Playing against the University of Havana women’s basketball team was a gift that I will cherish for a lifetime. I was so honored to be a captain for our team of such amazing Semester at Sea girls. Our team previously met only three short times before the game, and two of those times were try-out practices. Initially I was a bit fearful to play this team, because we had no prior knowledge of their style of play or skill set.
The most difficult part of the game was the language barrier between the teams. Usually, I like to tell an opponent how well they played. But even with the lack of communication we understood one another through laughs, smiles, and hand gestures. I was so happy when we received jerseys as a gift from the other girls. The University of Havana truly made us feel welcome.
One of my favorite moments was our entrance, parading around the court holding an American Flag. Before our team proceeded out onto the court, we all kissed the flag for luck. I had never felt so much pride for my country as I did in that moment.
The game was definitely intense. The girls and I certainly did the best we could. In the heat of the game I really wanted to win, but I now know this was not what was important. What was important was that two nations with different beliefs and ideologies were able to come together. It was such a beautiful sight to see. I believe it was a great way to prove that differences can be set aside to achieve a common goal.
Although we lost, I do not have any negative feelings about this once-in-a-lifetime experience. My mother has always told me that you have nothing to regret after a loss if you gave it your all. I hope that others will be able to see the happiness and harmony that was displayed that day. I have played basketball for about 13 years, but this game will go down in the record books for me.
Photos by: Joshua Gates Weisberg