Date June 20, 2023
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Photos: Brown Athletics teams up with a community in Panama to build a sports court for all

As part of an international service trip, Brown student-athletes partnered with the local community to build a multipurpose sports court, making lifelong connections along the way.

EL POTRERO, PANAMA [Brown University] — Play is a universal language — just ask a group of 26 student-athletes, coaches and staff from Brown University’s Division of Athletics and Recreation who recently returned from a service trip to rural El Potrero, Panama.

The group partnered with members of the local community as well as the nonprofit Courts for Kids to build a multipurpose sports court adjacent to an area grade school.

There was some initial trepidation as the student-athletes said goodbye to their cell phones and loaded onto a bus that escorted them from the capital of Panama City to El Potrero, a rural village of just a few thousand, said Senior Associate Director of Athletics/Student-Athlete Development Sean Hendricks, who attended and helped organize the trip.

But that sense of anxiety faded when the bus pulled into the schoolhouse that the group would call home for the next five days.

“We were welcomed immediately with a big sign and lots of kids outside ready to meet us,” said Katharine Knowles, a Brown sophomore on the women’s water polo team. “Their excitement was infectious and made us feel comfortable instantly.”

The construction was hard work, with the group splitting up into small teams to tackle individual components in assembly line-style in sweltering heat and humidity.

“ As a group, we have a unanimous appreciation for how our relationships grew within this team and the ways we were touched by this community. ”

Katharine Knowles Brown sophomore and women's varsity water polo utility

But despite the constant labor, Knowles said that the energy and motivation of the group never wavered. And in between construction shifts, the Brown Athletics team engaged in enthusiastic pick-up games of soccer and volleyball with local children.

“As a group, we have a unanimous appreciation for how our relationships grew within this team and the ways we were touched by this community,” Knowles said. “We made the most of our time, getting work done in the face of obstacles like weather, compensating for lost time by getting up earlier the next day, and having a go-with-the-flow mentality.”

Hendricks said that the trip to Panama is just one of hopefully several service trips to come for Brown student-athletes, with talks about how to organize the next one already in the works.

“[The student-athletes] are developing leadership skills, learning about different cultures and working closely together as a team regardless of which sport they play,” he said. “This is one of those opportunities we’re trying to create for our students that can really transform them as people and have a long-lasting impact on them; it certainly did for me.”