We need a lot of great role models to help guide our children on the court and off and Sean Tuohey is one of those people. Mr. Tuohey is the Co-founder of PeacePlayers International and recently volunteered to help run our upcoming Youth Basketball exhibition on April 27. Last Saturday Healthy Buffalo Founder & CEO Chas Kirsch sat down and had lunch with Mr. Tuohey to find out a little more about him, PeacePlayers International and his participation in the league. The following is an excerpt of that conversation.
Kirsch: You recently moved to Buffalo from Washington D.C. What brought you here?
Tuohey: I married a girl whose family is from here. Her pitch to me was “Let’s go be part of a city that’s transforming right now.” It’s a lot more exciting than being somewhere that’s already established. Bigger cities like D.C. are great, but you can learn a lot from a rust belt city like Buffalo that has so much history.
Kirsch: One of the things about Buffalo, that you should know, is that anyone who moves here and says that they like it better than where they were living becomes an instant superstar. So, how do you like Buffalo so far?
Tuohey: It’s cool. The people are you know… It’s almost a different type of friendliness. It’s very genuine. I equate it to Ireland. I lived in Ireland for two years. I think the people who live here, really appreciate it. The food is great. It’s that kind of pub culture. The people who are expats look back and they love it. There is a deep pride here and you can definitely feel it. One thing I don’t like is the division between African-Americans and whites, you can feel that here. I’m hoping that as the city grows, that can change as well. It’s a tale of two cities. But all in all I like it, I’ve never been in a traffic jam, it’s a very livable city.
Kirsch: You sort of touched on it, but how is life different than in D.C.?
Tuohey: D.C. is all about positioning yourself politically. There’s a hustle in D.C. that’s not very authentic. Buffalo doesn’t have that. Buffalo is very real. I think the natural beauty around here like the rivers and lakes and mountains are great. You don’t have that in D.C. The lack of access to the environment weighs on your psyche, I love D.C. too, but I’m falling in love with Buffalo.
Kirsch: The hustle of D.C. is part of its allure isn’t it?
Tuohey: It is. If you love things like House of Cards, and you love power, it’s a great place to be. But, I don’t find D.C. to be as segregated as here, economically or racially. You will bump into people from all walks of life.
Kirsch: What is PeacePlayers International?
Tuohey: PPI is an organization that uses basketball for peace building. We set up year-round programs in regions of the world that have been divided by race, war, or religion. We aim to get kids from opposite sides of the community playing together on a regular basis, forming friendships that can lead to peace. We work in Israel and Palestine, South Africa, Northern Ireland. It’s become a Peace Corps for Americans who want to coach. We send Americans over for two years at a time to each of these countries to socially engineer basketball leagues to create friendships.
Kirsch: How did PeacePlayers International come about?
Tuohey: I went over to Ireland to try and play professionally. Ireland is the lowest pro league in Europe and I got cut from the only team that offered me a tryout, I was too embarrassed to come home. So in order to subsidize my living in Belfast, I started coaching in primary schools. Basketball was a new sport and not segregated, so I got a lot of the Catholic and Protestant kids playing together. The police chief said it was great and that it could work in other places, so he sent me to South Africa.
Kirsch: What do you think you learned the most about your work with PeacePlayers International?
Tuohey: That a game played by kids can heal a divide created by adults, no matter how many centuries deep that divide has grown from. We’re seeing overnight, these kids become friends. It’s a competition and it’s fun with a coach who cares about you. It’s a simple recipe, there’s no magic. We’re getting kids in a room, letting them concentrate on a shared activity, and making it fun. We need to cultivate more of that. It’s shown me that people’s perceptions can change and in fact they want to change them, if you give them the tools.
Kirsch: You signed on to run Healthy Buffalo’s Youth Clinic on the 27th. What are you most looking forward to?
Tuohey: Healthy Buffalo has a great energy about it, for what it stands for and the people that it’s bringing together. I want to harness some of that energy and help some of the younger kids learn the game and connect with some of the older people who love the game. My hope is that this wont be a one off and will be a continuing program for the kids. But most of all it’s just fun. It’s fun to work with kids. It’s a fun to help the game grow, we all love the game.
Kirsch: What do you want the kids to take away from our clinic?
Tuohey: From a skills perspective you want to give them the core understanding of what they need to be great. But from a social perspective, I’m hoping we can fill the gym with kids from different neighborhoods that normally wouldn’t meet and hang out. And just like PeacePlayers, try and do the same thing for Healthy Buffalo, to grow friendships that wouldn’t have occurred because of the economic divides in the city.
Kirsch: I like it. One of the things I like about working with the Knights of Columbus is that it sits right on the border of the suburbs and the city and you get people coming from all over the community. Do you have any advice for Healthy Buffalo going forward as we look to develop our youth clinics?
Tuohey: We’ve got to be consistent. It’s going to be a challenge to transport kids to us that don’t have the means. We’re going to have to go out and get these kids and that’s going to be hard. And I hope that we can gain as much participation as possible from the adults who are playing in the league. Healthy Buffalo has grown completely organically, it’s not about just the league, it’s a mindset that you’re trying to set in the city about being active and creating a healthier city. If you went away this thing would fall apart. You don’t want that. You want to grow this mindset. This clinic is another facet of that, of creating a healthier society.
Kirsch: You’re just wrapping up your first season playing in the Healthy Buffalo Champions League. How do you like playing in the league?
Tuohey: It’s great. It’s a lot of fun. Our team has underperformed and that’s largely because of myinability to shoot and score. I think we got a great win in the first round and I think we are going to surprise some people this weekend. I’ve found that the teams that are the best are the ones that have slasher type players, because the older you get the less contact you want, you don’t want to run in to people, you don’t want to touch people, you just want to shoot the threes. On Sunday afternoon you don’t feel like getting hurt or being pushed, so it’s not necessarily the skill, it’s the hustle.
Kirsch: I’ve noticed you have definitely played better over the second have of the season.
Tuohey: Because you start getting mad. It’s competitive. I go to sleep mad, I want to lock myself in the gym. It’s nostalgic…
Kirsch: Next Sunday you take on Justin Andreozzi and the Toon Squad who are currently in the midst of a 20 game win streak dating back to last season. What do you think it’s going to take to get the win?
Tuohey: They’re largely overrated. You know, I don’t think they like physical contact. I think that we’re going to show what it really takes. We’re going to attack them in a way that no one else has.
Kirsch: At Healthy Buffalo we’re always looking for ways to fulfill our mission of creating a healthier, more vibrant community. What direction would you like to see us head in next and what do you think the city needs most?
Tuohey: I think we’ve got to focus on the East Side, trying to help with resources, time, and attention. That’s what’s holding Buffalo back in a lot of ways, is the lack of attention that side of the city is getting. So can we run a league in the east side, kids leagues or adult leagues? Can we work harder to grow relationships on that side of the city?