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UT’s CSPS Team in Mexico, from left to right: Ashleigh Huffman, Sarah Hillyer, Ralph Weekly, Brian Canever, Cecilia Vales, and Karen Weekly.

UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society hosted program alumnae and coaches in Mexico recently on a mission to reach and empower more young women through the power of team sports.

“Mexicans and Americans, boys and girls, men and women—we make each other stronger together,” said Sarah Hillyer, director.

The center and its team, based in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, were in Mexico as part of a follow-up project stemming from its work with the US Department of State’s Global Sports Mentoring Program.

The center has served as the implementation partner for the initiative since former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton created it in 2012.

Over the course of nine days in Mexico City and Hermosillo, GSMP alumnae Cecilia Vales, the founder of She Wins Mexico, a nongovernmental organization that teaches girls life skills through soccer, and Carla Bustamante, the public relations director for Naranjeros Baseball Club, organized meetings for the UT delegation and sports clinics. This included working groups with the Mexican Football Federation, United Nations Women, the Sonora Sports Commission, various softball and basketball clinics for girls, and two conferences on the themes of gender equality and empowerment through sports.

Tennessee softball coaches Ralph Weekly and Karen Weekly joined the center’s team in Hermosillo, Mexico. They led softball skills clinics for more than 100 coaches and girls from the state of Sonora, immediately striking up bonds despite the language barrier.

Participants in the CSPS softball clinic in Mexico.
Participants in the CSPS softball clinic in Mexico.

“The organization and enthusiasm from the center’s directors and their entire team, and the way they approached every clinic so happy to be there—it made for a trip I can say that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Coach Ralph Weekly said.

“I could get really involved in teaching girls how to throw a ball or swing a bat, but the real mission of the trip was using sports to empower them and make them feel stronger. Their lives and careers may not be playing sports, but hopefully through sports they will feel more confident, independent, and have greater self-worth,” said Coach Karen Weekly.

Other members of the United States delegation in Mexico included Mary Harvey, an Olympic gold medalist and former women’s national soccer team goalkeeper; John Lisko, executive communications director for the public relations firm Saatchi and Saatchi Los Angeles; and Laura Dixon, executive director of community responsibility for Spurs Sports and Entertainment, which owns and operates the San Antonio Spurs and other sports franchises in south Texas.

With the GSMP’s alumnae network growing to upwards of 80 women and men in 52 countries, the center has traveled to support empowerment projects throughout the world. From soccer clinics with Syrian refugees in Jordan to post-disaster relief work in the Philippines, the center capitalizes on more than twenty years of experience in sport for development and peace research and fieldwork from its directors to remain involved year round.

“The trip to Mexico was an important one because we not only share a border but also a tremendous love for sports,” said Ashleigh Huffman, assistant director of the center. “Although there has been great progress for women’s sports development in Mexico, there is still significant opportunity. Girls and women there are talented, athletic, smart, and poised to achieve great things. We look forward to continuing our relationship with the sports leagues and federations and to supporting our brothers and sisters in Mexico as they create a more equitable society for girls and women.”

In early October, the center will once again run the GSMP’s Empower Women through Sports program for another class of sixteen women from twelve countries, including first-time participant countries Moldova, Paraguay, and Benin.

Follow the center’s work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Brian Canever (551-221-1382,

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,