PLAYA FLAMINGO, Costa Rica — On March 16, 2019, four Lady Chiefs from Cherokee High School — nominated by their coach — LeeAnna Blackburn, Mallie Cole, Seira Light, Teressa Addison, and Health Science Instructor Tommie Loudy, departed the Tri-Cities area to attend the Girls Leadership Academy for Service and Sport (GLASS) in Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica.

GLASS is a unique, international sports leadership program offered to high school female athletes by Beyond Sports.

GLASS balances a dynamic curriculum of sport-specific training, leadership development, service-learning, global engagement, and adventure. The group of Lady Chiefs were greeted at Liberia International Airport by Cherokee High School Alumna and GLASS Mentor, Jennifer Davis. Davis is currently completing a year-long internship with by Beyond Sports. The program is led by a diverse group of eight, former female collegiate athletes from across the United States who serve as the student’s mentors throughout the trip.

“All of the GLASS mentors were so welcoming upon our arrival to Costa Rica," said Leeanna Blackburn, Senior, Tennis. "Their outgoing and caring personalities made connecting with one another easy. Throughout the week, we observed the mentors’ natural leadership skills and love for serving through their community impact, athletic ability, and passion for teaching and empowering others. By constantly motivating our group during nightly leadership work sessions, we were all challenged to build up our own leadership, mission work, sports skills, and even a little Spanish. The sisterhood at Beyond Sports is strong, and together, they form a group of the most amazing, genuine people you could ever meet.

"While in Costa Rica, the GLASS mentors arranged a 'carnival' day involving two local towns," said Puravida Siera Light, Junior, Softball. "The event is similar to what we would call a 'field day'. Games and activities facilitated by our group were sack races, volleyball, water balloon volleyball, and a three-legged race. A nearby church, in conjunction with a church group from Seattle, provided face painting and food. The event ended with some cultural entertainment from preschool and elementary school girls who performed traditional Costa Rican dances in native dress. I am so grateful to have been able to participate and socialize with the most humble kids, and even adults. Although strangers, the Costa Ricans treated our group with respect, kindness, and appreciation and welcomed us to the carnival. While we were participating in the games with the children I had the chance to run in the three-legged races with a small tica (Costa Rican girl) and I will never forget the smile on her face the whole time we played together. The children were so full of spirit and joy even though they didn't have much; they showed so much excitement the entire time. Even the adults participated in the community volleyball game, and were having so much fun just meeting new people and getting to just relax for a bit. The mentors also set up a cake walk for the kids, and I wish I could express the happiness that would come upon a kids face when they found out they had won a cupcake. Altogether, the carnival was an event I will never forget. From the smiles, dirt stains, and even the overpowering heat. To have been raised in a small town like Rogersville, I would have never would have thought I would be able to have received such an astonishing opportunity like I endured over spring break with eight amazing/ empowering mentors. These mentors not only trained us, but instilled us with multiple life lessons. I’m so thankful I had the privilege to meet and relate with these beautiful athletes and learn all about the different aspects of how to become a better leader. Within a week of spending time with these mentors, these girls felt like sisters by the time it was time to leave. All in all, GLASS was a life changing, unforgettable experience that taught me more than I could ever explain."

Throughout the week, the Chiefs also led a youth sports clinic for girls in the Potrero area and served at a local food bank in the Brasilito community.

“Working at the food bank in Brasilito was a life- changing experience," said Mallie Cole, Junior, Volleyball.

"Our service consisted of breaking down cardboard boxes and preparing orders requested by local organizations. These organizations consisted of day care facilities that provide care to children of Costa Rican working parents. Items distributed included canned food, rice, beans, water, baby food, and diapers, and many other household items. While working, we engaged in conversation with another volunteer. He humbly shared his story of how he came to be a volunteer at the food bank. As a recovering addict, from more than 10 hours away from Playa Flamingo, he bravely left his family and the environment that contributed to his addiction. He continued to talk to us about the importance of developing leadership skills as well as his journey to recovery. In that moment, we became overwhelmed at how we were the ones blessed by his service to others. This was by far one of the most surreal moments I have ever experienced and it made the whole trip worth a million words.”

Connecting the community through sports and service was only one aspect of the Chief’s experience in Costa Rica. GLASS incorporates a leadership component into its curriculum which focuses on fostering each student’s self-growth as a student, athlete, and citizen.

The itinerary for each day is built around a theme, which is then discussed in the evening leadership workshops. For example, day one was centered around Authenticity. The first step to becoming a leader is knowing your authentic self. This concept was built into the student’s sports training, service-learning, and excursions. The subsequent themes were Confidence, Connection, Positivity, Adventure, and Empowering Others.

While GLASS is an opportunity to engage in sport, serve, and transform, it is also an opportunity to have fun! The Chiefs went snorkeling with the Costa Rica Dive Center, took surf lessons and caught their first wave at Playa Grande. They also zip-lined and observed the Costa Rican wildlife at Diamante Eco Adventures, learned how to salsa , merengue, and bachata, and visited five different beaches.

“The week as a whole was an amazing and life-changing experience," said TT Addison, Senior, Softball. "As a result of attending, I have grown in a positive and confident matter in how I view myself as well as others. The phrase said frequently by Costa Ricans is, ‘Pura Vida’ which means to live simply. Thus, I realize the importance of living in the moment and pushing myself to achieve personal and professional goals. The community projects we participated in were not only service-oriented but also heartwarming as we were afforded the opportunity to know and understand the people of Costa Rica. However, I feel most impacted by the 8 mentors from Beyond Sports who helped me set goals and create plans to pursue those goals. Since returning from the trip, I committed to signing with Tusculum University to play soccer and declared Education as my major. I am proud to say I will be the first female athlete from Cherokee High School to play soccer at the college level. I truly feel God placed these young ladies in my life at the right time and each will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

GLASS will be held throughout the summer of 2019. If anyone is interested in learning more about this opportunity, visit www.beyondsportstours.com/glass or email jennifer@beyondsportstours.com.