How Glenwood, basketball help abused girls in India
For Glenwood native and former Demons star Cassandra Irving (Cassie Hailey in high school), basketball is truly a game without borders.
Longtime residents may remember Irving as the 1995 Western Slope League Player of the Year before she headed to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
After that, she got married, moved to Canada and started a family. Now she will return home over Thanksgiving week (Nov. 23-25) and Christmas to put on basketball camps under her Game On banner at Glenwood Springs Middle School.
But the camps are more than basketball.
Game On grew out of a trip to India Irving made with her now-13-year-old son Cooper two years ago, when they learned about the unfair treatment of Dalit — lower-caste people in India’s ancient class structure — and decided to take action.
Irving plans to use the proceeds from her camps to help 40 Dalit girls in India, all of whom were rescued from slums. She even plans a Game On camp for the girls next year.
The girls were abused before being rescued by the Dalit Freedom Network. The network was started by Indians from all different castes, including the highest level (Brahmans) and the lowest levels (Dalits), all of whom are committed to working together for change in their nation. They have started schools for Dalit children as well women’s empowerment centers.
Cassandra launched GameOnCamps.com and approached the leaders of the freedom network about running sports camps in their schools, while Cooper created his own online youth business (CooperIrving.com) to help get the story about the Dalits out to the public.
Irving plans to hold her first camp in India in February — the first of its kind not just for sports, but for girls. She will take her 12-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, with her to the city of Hyderabad, where Mackenzie will participate in the camp with the Indian girls.
Although this will be the first camp of its kind for girls and sports, Irving sees it as more than just a camp to teach the girls about sports, nutrition and fitness.
“It is life-changing,” Irving said. “Sports gives kids a team around them, a coach behind them and the courage, confidence and competitive mindset inside them to dream bigger, dig deeper and work harder to overcome the challenges that they face in life, both on and off the court. It is also incredibly fun, which is something Dalit kids rarely get to have.”
That’s Irving’s philosophy with Game On. She wants to improve everyday life for young athletes while developing a well-rounded person.
“Game On camps are unique in that they focus on the development of the whole athlete, so in addition to sports-specific skills and drills, players also receive instruction in nutrition, fitness and character development,” Irving said. “This produces a much more balanced athlete and ensures that even if a player changes sports or chooses to pursue another activity altogether (like drama, music or writing), the time and money invested in the camps has given them a solid foundation with character, fitness and healthy eating.”
The first official Game On camp was held this past summer in Glenwood.
Through basketball, Irving has had the chance to travel the world and leave a lasting impact on children. Now, with her planned trip to India, Irving is focusing on making an impact in a foreign country that even she couldn’t have imagined back when she started playing basketball.
“My hope for most of the Dalit kids we work with in India is to let them know we North Americans care,” Irving said. “We see what is happening to them, and we are committed to helping. For the girls of India, I want to give them something bigger to shoot for.
“Back here at home, Game On offers opportunities for youth to travel overseas and be a part of something big. In the years to come, it would be fun to take a group of Game On players (with coaches and parents) from here in the valley to India.
“The takeaway for me, personally, is that sometimes you have to go all the way around the world to get back home. Places like India and Ukraine [where a Game On camp also is planned] weren’t really on my radar, but thank God they are now because they are challenging me to dream more strategically and take as many people with me on the ride as I can,” Irving said.
“Glenwood is where it all started for me, and I love to think that one day Game On Camps could be based here as it lives out its mission to help people get their game on in the name of justice for those who need it the most, whether it’s the kids who live across the street or the kids who live across the world. In the end, it is my way of being the change I want to see in our world.”
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