The jump ball that began the July 6th basketball game between the Navy’s Pacific Partnership All-Stars, and the Marshall Island’s Olympic Team was the end a long road that began even before Coach Newell arrived in the Marshall Islands on January 3rd of this year. That visit, part of the State Department’s Sports Diplomacy Program, set the wheels in motion for the game played in Majuro on July 6th. Over nine days in January, Coach Newell conducted a variety of contests, tournaments, and perhaps most significantly, a level 2 training course for coaches—the first of its kind in all of Oceania.
When Tom Newell returned home to the Pacific Northwest, he set to work, with “Newell’s Jewells” to obtain donations of shoes, clothing and equipment for the students and practitioners of the game in the Marshall Islands. With shipping and delivery by the U.S. Navy, the stage had been set for Operation Handclasp and the handover of Coach Newell’s basketball equipment to the Olympic Committee and the Marshall Islands Basketball Coaches Association on July third. The equipment was delivered to Majuro, sorted by the Navy, the Coach’s Association and the Olympic Committee, with a significant amount of it, including glow in the dark basketballs, repackaged and delivered to the Coach’s Association on Ebeye, Kwajalein Atoll.
But by game time on the 6th of July, all that hard work was behind us. It was time to play ball. The Navy brass band entertained an overflow crowd at the Salvation Army Court in Rita, with excess seating provided by neighboring trees. An extremely close game followed Ambassador Armbruster’s opening toss—with the lead changing several times, but ending in a win for the Olympic Team: 60 to 59. It was a game, though, where everyone left feeling as though they’d won something. Now, with an infusion of new equipment, courtesy of Coach Tom Newell and the U.S. Navy, and new skills among a group of dedicated coaches, a basketball in the Marshall Islands has nowhere to go but up.