ESPY winners unite kids divided by Belfast conflict

Updated: July 3, 2007, 10:24 PM ET
ESPN.com

Two men on opposite sides of Northern Ireland's violent 30-year conflict who have used basketball to promote peace and understanding between Protestant and Catholic children will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs later this month.

Trevor Ringland, a Protestant rugby star, and Dave Cullen, a Catholic who grew up using basketball to escape from the realities of war, were recruited by PeacePlayers (formerly Playing for Peace) as a means to build a peaceful future for Protestant and Catholic children and eliminate barriers that have divided the country they love.

The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is presented annually to individuals whose contributions transcend sports. A short documentary profiling Ringland and Cullen, who were born in Northern Ireland, will be presented at the ESPYs.

"This year the Arthur Ashe Award honors two men who refused to listen to those who taught them to hate and instead are courageously teaching hope and quietly working to unite a nation," Maura Mandt, executive producer of the ESPYs, said. "Trevor and Dave have seized an opportunity to help children realize that their 'enemy' has a face that is just like their own."

Both men were recruited to PeacePlayers International by Americans Brendan and Sean Tuohey, whose family founded the organization, to bring children in Belfast together through sport. In January, they worked to create a basketball mixer, or "Twinner," that would bring together children from two schools caught in the ugly crossfire of "The Troubles" conflict: Holy Cross Catholic school and Wheatfield Protestant school, which are separated by 30 feet.

After heated debate, a threat from parents of a blockade and difficult negotiations, the event took place in April with 10-year old girls -- Protestants and Catholics alike -- having fun and learning basketball from PeacePlayers coaches.

"Trevor and David exemplify the power of sport to unite, inspire and transform," said Brendan Tuohey, the executive director of PeacePlayers International.

Ringland, Cullen and PeacePlayers International are profiled in the the July 16 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

The ESPYs will air July 15 (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

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