Since its incorporation in 1965, the Tennessee Partners chapter has worked to connect with youth in Latin America through sport and leadership programs. Most recently, they arranged for a baseball team of young men ages 12 and 13 from the Dominican Republic to travel to Lebanon, Tennessee for the town's Babe Ruth baseball tournament.
Three representatives from the Dominican Republic Partners chapter recruited the Santo Domingo Stars players from Herrera, a rapidly growing Santo Domingo neighborhood. In almost all cases, this was the players’ first visit to the United States. Members of the Tennessee Partners chapter worked with families in Lebanon to develop home stays and an itinerary of educational and cultural activities for the young visitors and their coaches.
The central goal of the visit was to provide the Dominican youth with an opportunity to see the United States, specifically Tennessee. “The purpose of the exchange is not as much baseball [as it is a way to experience another culture], even though baseball is involved in the exchange,” David McKinney, Tennessee Partners chapter member and coordinator of sport activities, said.
The entire city of Lebanon gave the Dominican baseball team a warm welcome. Following the local community holding a swim party and community festival in the town square, the team attended a local school to learn about U.S. secondary education. They also visited the Tennessee State Legislature where Representative Mark Pody taught them about the state legislative process and the historical background of the 19th amendment. He then presented each of the Dominican players and coaches with an official certificate welcoming them to Tennessee. The youth had many questions that they asked with the help of translators, McKinney said.
Cumberland University allowed the players to use their baseball practice facility, and the boys attended a Vanderbilt Commodores baseball game, the 2015 college World Series Runner-ups . During the final two days of the visit, the Santo Domingo Stars played against local youth teams in the annual Babe Ruth tournament.
The group this year was made up of exemplary youth who enjoyed the trip immensely. “We wanted them to play but we were more interested in what went on when they weren’t playing,” McKinney said. “It was extremely successful.”
The exchange builds on a tradition between the Tennessee Partners chapter and Latin American youth that is more than 50 years old. These efforts have included annual family-hosted youth exchanges between Tennessee, Venezuela, and Brazil from the 1960’s–1990’s and youth basketball exchanges in the 1980’s.
In 2014, 15 Venezuelan coaches traveled to Cumberland University and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to participate in a seminar on empowering young women in Latin America through sport. In the early 2000's, U.S. youth leadership programs began bringing high school students from Venezuela, Brazil, and other Latin American countries to Tennessee. A group from Venezuela is scheduled to arrive this September.
The Tennessee chapter hopes to include girls in future exchanges, possibly through soccer or volleyball, McKinney said. The chapter also hopes to gain funding to provide plane tickets to participants, opening the opportunity to youth who otherwise could not afford it.