International Fellow, PeacePlayers International, Cyprus
“Anyone who ever got me a job was a Clark grad.”
Gunnar Hagstrom chuckles when he says this, but not because it isn’t true.
The former Clark basketball and baseball player is speaking by phone from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where he works with PeacePlayers International, an organization that uses athletics to foster conflict resolution in troubled spots around the world, including South Africa, Israel and the West Bank, and Northern Ireland. Hagstrom landed the position with help from contacts Lawrence Norman ’94, M.B.A. ’95, a member of the PeacePlayers board of directors, and John Ginnity ’01, a former assistant basketball coach at Clark.
Prior to heading overseas, Hagstrom was an assistant coach with the MIT men’s basketball team. His Clark connection there was former MIT assistant Oliver Eslinger ’97, now head coach at CalTech. Last year he played in the North Cyprus Professional Basketball League. (“My buddies from Clark joke that of all the people who got to play professional basketball, somehow it was me.”)
Riven by conflict between Greek and Turkish factions since 1974, Cyprus has proven to be the perfect locale for PeacePlayers efforts. Hagstrom and other organizers work with children and coaches on both sides of the “green line” — the United Nations-monitored buffer zone separating northern and southern Cyprus. The players practice in their own communities, and they are taught conflict resolution through basketball.
Once a month teams from the north and south are brought together for friendly competition. Sometimes they cross through the armed checkpoints; other times they play at a court in the neutral zone.
“We try to get them as many interactions as possible over the course of a year,” Hagstrom says. PeacePlayers also runs summer camps and teaches a leadership development program for 16-18-year-olds. “The earlier we get these kids the better; we can really help shape the way they see the other community. Our motto is: children who can play together can live together.”