OTISFIELD — At one end of the Seeds of Peace field house basketball court, former Duke star Gerald Henderson directed a group of 15 Arab and Jewish teenagers through defensive drills. At the other end, former University of North Carolina star Wayne Ellington engaged another group in a shooting contest, with the loser obligated to do five push-ups.
The arrangement wasn't an accident. Organizers of the Seeds of Peace International Camp's annual "Play for Peace" basketball clinic hoped some of the campers, at least the ones who were basketball fans, would realize that if two sworn enemies of college hoops could coexist on a sultry summer morning in Maine, other forms of cooperation were possible on a more global, and important, level.
The symbolism was not lost on Henderson, the first round draft pick of the Charlotte Bobcats last month.
"I think this shows them you can play games and enjoy each other's company even though there may be certain things in between you," Henderson said.
Between Henderson and Ellington's is one of American sports' most bitter rivalries — Blue Devils vs. Tar Heels — set in a corner of North Carolina known as "Tobacco Road."
Between the 140 Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian and American youth participating in the leadership and conflict resolution camp on the tranquil shores of Pleasant Lake, it is an ancient conflict set in the Middle East that continues to boil and continues to make the mission of the Seeds of Peace an urgent one.
A small part of that is the basketball clinic, started in 2002 by sports agent and camp board member Arn Tellem. Tellem annually brings a number of NBA players to the camp to run the clinic of basketball fundamentals and teamwork skills and the campers, with cameras in hand, greet them like heroes, even if they've never seen an NBA game.
"It's like real bonding for us," said Nico, a Jewish camper from York. "We all enjoy it."
Seeds of Peace co-director Wil Smith said the clinic helps validate the teens' participation in the camp, for which they often meet disapproval back in their own communities.
"It's a big part of our summer," Smith said. "For (the campers), they may not know the players, but they know that in the U.S., the NBA is important, and if there are guys from the NBA taking time out of their schedule to come here, then what they're doing has to be pretty important."
This year, the basketball contingent included Henderson and Ellington,
a first-round pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tyreke Evans, the
first selection of the Sacramento Kings from Memphis, Boston Celtics
veteran forward Brian Scalabrine and former WNBA star Barbara Turner.
At the same time some campers were playing basketball together, others were in "Dialogue Huts" just a few yards from the field house, talking about their conflicts in discussions directed by camp facilitators. Some campers in one hut could be heard literally yelling "You started it" by passersby as the clinic went on nearby.
Smith said activities such as the basketball clinic are about "having them work together outside of those dialogue discussions. That's the hard work. It brings lots of emotion. It's not always positive. Kids are sharing their real-life experience."
Besides reaching out, campers said, being a "Seed," as they are called, means looking within.
"This camp is about coexistence, even with people who are
normally your enemy," said Khaled, a Palestinian now living in New
Zealand. "It's kind of like an internal war with yourself."
"It's very special for us," said Talal, another Palestinian.
Spending a day at the camp is special for Scalabrine, a "Play for
Peace" regular who said the players learn as much as they teach.
"The biggest thing is bringing awareness and for people to understand
that we're all just people, even if we come from different
backgrounds," he said.