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Basketball teams for peace

  • Story Highlights
  • Michael Evans on organization to forge friendships in Northern Ireland
  • He put Protestant and Catholic high school students on one team
  • Even after graduating from school, the former teammates are still friends
  • The friends communicate via Internet because it's too dangerous to visit
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(CNN) -- Basketball is often viewed as a game of opposing sides. But one man is using the game to bring young Catholic and Protestant men together on the same team in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

After graduating college, Michael Evans coached basketball at two high schools in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

After graduating college, Michael Evans coached basketball at two high schools in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Former college basketball player, Michael Evans, 26, in partnership with another basketball player, Dave Cullen, created the organization Full Court Peace to help forge friendships between between schools in the divided communities.

He spoke with CNN's Nicole Lapin about how Full Court Peace works. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Lapin: So you wanted to use basketball as a bridge but you started Full Court Peace almost to dupe these youngsters into working together?

Evans: Yea that's one way to put it. I think what I did was I just coached basketball separately in two high schools. And, uh, on the opposite sides of these walls I've been talking about. And I got roughly five on each side to latch on to me. These 16-year-old boys. You know, they came from broken homes and I showed them loyalty. That's what coaches do, is show their players loyalty and the kids latched on to me, so much that I was able to sell the idea of making an integrated team out of their enemies and it was a complete success. Video Watch more on Michael Evan's organization »

Lapin: They didn't think that they were going to work with the other side. Like Robert, for example, one of your players who is Protestant. What did he think when he was going to work with a Catholic team?

Evans:That was a pretty discouraging moment throughout the whole process of forming that team. I told Robert the news and he shunned me. He couldn't believe that the time I'd spent with him alone was really just basically me trying to convince him to join this team. I thought I might have lost him.

Lapin: Now he's also friends with the other side to this day. There was a little bit of hesitation at first, I know they did speak, but are they still friends?

Evans:They are still friends. I recently went back to Belfast and had dinner with a lot of them all together. And the ones that couldn't meet for the integrated dinner asked about their team mates. The neighborhoods are too divided for them to visit each other so they communicate a lot online through which is a social networking site over there. And they keep up with each other. They're not bashful about having pictures of each other, arm-in-arm on their social networking sites, and they communicate through me about each other because I'm in touch with all of them.

Lapin: So that's amazing, Michael. How do you think you do this? How does sports diplomacy, which is really what this is, succeed where world leaders, prime ministers and presidents have failed?


Evans: I mean just because a politician, two politicians come together and say they agree on something, it doesn't mean that the people on the ground are going to be agreeing on it. And most importantly the youth that are growing up in these environments, that doesn't mean that they agree with what's going on. So that's sort of just a face to the whole solution.

I think what sport does, namely basketball, is that you put kids in a small, very small group together and they're forced to communicate in order to succeed; in order to win. And then the coaches role is very unique in that the kids all bond over having one voice and one person telling them what to do and guiding them along and helping them with success.

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