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How PeacePlayers Northern Ireland’s Annual Jingle Ball Prevailed Through COVID-19 Restrictions

At PeacePlayers – Northern Ireland (PP-NI), we use basketball as a tool to connect children and young people from Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist and Catholic/Nationalist/Republican backgrounds in Belfast and surrounding areas.  By competing together on integrated teams and participating in PeacePlayers’ community relations and team-building activities, children from these historically divided communities can discover common ground, forge new friendships and break down barriers, all through various programmes like our Cross-Community League (CCL). At the end of our winter CCL term, PP-NI hosts one of our infamous celebration events, Jingle Ball. Jingle Ball brings young people together from all our CCL programmes across Northern Ireland and is a day packed full of competitions, basketball games, connecting with friends from other areas, prizes, a lot of dancing and of course, a LOT of FUN.

Past Jingle Ball tournaments would see busloads of hyped up participants and coaches travelling from each of our 5 locations to take over Queen’s University P.E.C ’s indoor courts to connect, compete and celebrate the term that was. It is always a day full of energy, connecting, family activities, sportsmanship and community at its essence. But, due to ever changing COVID restrictions and safety guidelines, everyone had the same big question on their minds – ‘Is Jingle Ball still going to happen?’. With the opportunities that the tournament brings to unite communities, educate young people and inspire the next generation of leaders on a national level, although it would have to look different, restrictions were not going to stop it from taking place.

With many people longing for the day to go ahead and expressing the importance it plays in their PeacePlayers experience, we used this as an opportunity to form the ‘Jingle Ball Steering Group’. This Steering Group was comprised of staff, coaches, parents and participants who helped us to create and shape Jingle Ball 2020, making sure that all the important elements and aspects of the day were still included. Participants or families had never previously been involved in the planning of our tournaments, but this gave scope for fresh ideas and give more opportunities for them to lead on the day.

The Steering Group identified some of important aspects of the day to be; the hype on the bus journeys, connecting with participants from the other sites, wearing their team colours, being able to cheer on their teammates (both from their site and others) and of course, playing basketball! They then jumped into action with ideas on how we could creatively ensure that although the day was going to look different, that these foundations remained. Each geographical site hosted their own ‘hype sessions’ in the morning where teams and coaches were able to meet at their local courts in their team colours to connect, play some games, take part in drills and practice their 3v3 skills, before meeting at a central location in Belfast where our 3v3 tournament took place.

Although not all our participants were able to join in person, they were still able to connect in with the activities on the day. All our
sessions throughout the day were a hybrid of in-person and virtual, where participants were able to join into the games and drills on the court from and cheer on their teammates from home. These hybrid sessions were an important and creative way in keeping teams united, connected and involving those who couldn’t be with us throughout the day.

The energy and atmosphere at all the sessions was unparalleled as teammates and coaches reconnected after weeks of virtual programming, especially at our 3v3 tournament. For those who were unable to attend or take part joined in for a ‘watch party’ where they competed in various challenges, while also being joined by our guest commentator who gave live updates and scores from our teammates on the court. Watching our participants come alive on the court during our tournament was a highlight of the day.

PeacePlayers NI have been so thankful and grateful for all the support from our participants, parents, coaches, our steering group, our staff team and T:BUC who made our winter CCL term and Jingle Ball tournament happen. We are continuing to adapt in the current climate and maintaining connections between participants. Nothing can stop the mission to unite communities, educate young people and inspire the next generation of leaders!

Bailee RasmussenHow PeacePlayers Northern Ireland’s Annual Jingle Ball Prevailed Through COVID-19 Restrictions