A thousand little basketballers

The 6th annual Ülker-sponsored Ülker Mini Basketball Festival was held recently in Izmir. Fifty boys’ and 18 girls’ teams, a total of 1000 children, took part in the event. The festival put competition aside and offered the children, who came from several regions, a chance to make new friends and develop their enjoyment of basketball.

One of them is named Şehriban, the other is Minel. They are both 12 years old and both of them live in Diyarbakır. However, it isn’t the fact that they live in the same general region that has brought them together to pose for a photograph; it’s basketball.  Minel’s father is a soldier from Giresun who is stationed in Diyarbakır and Şehriban’s father is a painter in Diyarbakır. I met the two in Izmir at the 6th annual Ülker-sponsored Ülker Mini Basketball Festival. One of them lives in secure military housing and the other lives with her family in a squatter house in Iskanevler, one of the poorest districts of Diyarbakır. Despite having met less than a few months ago, they are playing the game they love, basketball, on the same team. These two girls are doing something that their fathers may never have been as successful at. The reason for their success is that they overcame prejudice and fell in love with the sport when they discovered basketball… perhaps they are one of the most striking examples of children from vastly different worlds who came to Izmir to live together and who, in spite of their youth, have understood the peace and friendship fostered by participation in sport. 
Minel Aydın is a student at Şehit Mahmut Tümer Elementary School; she has lived in Diyarbakır for 5 years and played basketball for 3 years. She explained that after she began to play basketball, she began to develop physically, discovered team spirit and made a lot of friends.  At the same time she doesn’t let anything get in the way of her being the number one student in her class, even though she attends basketball training 5 days a week. Minel says she wants to become a lawyer when she grows up, but is not thinking of giving up basketball.

Şehriban has a purpose

Teammate Şehriban Balta also wants to become a lawyer, but the main reason she wants to fulfill that dream is to help her family out of their poverty.  Şehriban is the sixth of 8 children.  She was introduced to basketball when she was in the 5th grade, so her teacher had to visit her family to get permission for her to play.  After she got permission, she was named as a first founding team member of the Diyarbakır Gençlerbirliği team. Before she returns to the two room squatter hut where she lives, she attends basketball training in the garden of her school.  She is very happy that because of basketball, she has been able visit other towns and cities and has made many new friends.  She can’t hide her happiness when she explains her family’s pride in her and when she tells us that her younger brother Ezgin is also enthralled by basketball.  Sometimes her family used to watch NBA games on satellite, she says, but the satellite dish is broken and doesn’t work anymore, “My family can’t afford all the things we want,” she explains.  Minel and Şehriban were not the only two children we spoke to at the 6th annual Ülker Mini Football Festival held July 2 – 6, organized by the Turkish Basketball Federation. They were so happy to participate in the festival they could hardly catch their breath to answer our questions. Neither of them wanted to miss the events that were being held in the auditorium.  Coach Enver Alkaya was sharing in the same happiness. "I wish we could have events like this every 6 months,” he said. Alkaya has been involved with basketball for 25 years.  He’s a military man and has volunteered for four years by training children to play for Diyarbakır’s basketball teams. While he was explaining that his team had never been defeated in Diyarbakır, he was confident that they were not going to be the Southeastern team to lose.  The children’s social lives have also developed because of basketball and he added that these types of events are indispensible for promoting personal development and self confidence.

Children’s socialization

Afyon Çimentospor's Coach, Kayhan Demirören also thinks that the festivals are beneficial for the kids who come. He says that it is a good idea not to stress the competition aspect of basketball.  Demirören also applauds the opportunities that children are given to socialize with their counterparts from other cities during the festival.

Coach Demirören has taken part in festivals in Eskişehir and Ankara he says, and this year he has brought a group of students born in 1996 to Izmir. He says it’s important for kids to love the game of basketball and that once they do embrace the game it will always be part of their lives.  Kübra Beşiktaş (12), who lives in Afyon, took part in the Ankara festival. Kübra has been playing basketball for five and a half years; she used to watch when she was younger but never thought she would be a player. She attends training three days a week and it has become a way of life for her.  

There should be competition

Chosen as one of the three best players at the festival, Ebru Koçak (12) is good enough to play in the Turkish championships.  She took up basketball because she thought it would be a good sport.  Ebru is a player for Mersin TED and hopes someday to play for Fenerbahçe. Maybe because she is so ambitious, she thinks differently from her friends who prefer the non-competitive atmosphere of the festival. In spite of that, she says that making new friends is one of the best aspects of the festival. Kütahya Termikspor Coach, Aynur Kalan has been involved with basketball for 24 years; after 15 years as an active player she switched to being a trainer. She used to coach the Bolu women’s team, but after the earthquake she moved to Kütahya and now coaches the men’s team there.  Kalan has participated in every festival with the children she coaches.  She says that children really do get a lot out of basketball, “They learn how to socialize, be active, play fairly and how to love and respect others," she says. Two of Kalan’s students, Ahmet Can Öngen (12) and Hidayet Semih Çakır (12) are two of the original members of the team. Ahmet Can says that the sport of basketball helped him to grow taller; he thinks the best sport of all is basketball and he will always be involved with the game.  Hidayet Semih’s idol is his namesake Hidayet Çakır.  He began to play more than two years ago and is waiting patiently for his height to increase.  

We are continuing to create activities and projects for children

Ülker Corporate Communications Director Zuhal Şeker Tucker, indicating that an active involvement in sports is important to ensure the health of future generations, pointed out, “Ülker is very concerned with providing good nutrition and promoting the health of future generations through sport. Malnutrition and obesity, two problems that affect child development, can be dealt with knowledgeably now, to prevent problems later in their lives. Therefore, we want to encourage children to do sports to counteract their consumption of high-energy products.  Children are very important to us. We have earmarked 38 million dollars of our budget to invest in sports sponsorships. As a parallel project, we are cooperating with the Turkish Football Federation to establish football villages. Along with its sponsorship of the big clubs, Ülker understands how important it is to support sports for kids. We want to encourage involvement in sports and to spread information about the importance of good nutrition for children.  That is the reason that we have been cooperating with the two sports federations for such a long time. This year’s basketball festival, organized in cooperation with the Turkish Basketball Federation, has just taken place for the sixth time.  These festivals are not competitive; we organize them to acquaint children from various regions of the country with children of other cultural backgrounds and to give them opportunities to establish new friendships, while participating in a friendly sports-oriented atmosphere. According to research, in order for a brand to become “beloved”, out of 5 main activities it can be involved with, “sport” is number one. We have adopted sport as the main focus of our communications. The activities that Ülker sponsors for children include environmental awareness and cultural projects, but the sport aspect of these activities is never neglected.”

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