|By Scott Stearns
Photo: VOA Photo S. Stearns
Girls in Dakar, Senegal play basketball in Anne Marie Dioh’s after-school program
Senegalese basketball legend Anne Marie Dioh is helping to train the next generation of women basketball players in her country. Dioh is making a difference through her after-school program that also encourages young people to stay in school.
Anne Marie Dioh captained Senegal’s women’s basketball team to two African championships in the early 1990s. The retired shooting guard now helps girls learn the game she loves in a country where women’s athletics are overshadowed by men’s teams.
Dioh says that everything she knows about sports and basketball she must pass on to young people. And that is what pushed her to create this school.
Players from across Dakar come to Dioh’s after-school program three times a week for basketball and the structure of organized athletics.
Dioh says that helps her draw in the children, so they can stay in school, learn and play basketball.
Renata Maniaci is a Fulbright scholar from the United States who has spent the last year studying women’s basketball in Senegal.
“This teaches them discipline,” said Maniaci. “A lot of the ex-national team players say that the most important thing that they learned playing basketball was discipline, hard work and respect for each other, respect for the people they play against… And I see a lot of the girls learning that here every day with Anne Marie.”
With girls from six to 18 years of age, the program builds camaraderie among teammates who often play together in neighborhood tournaments season after season.
Abibatou Diallo is a point guard on the school’s cadet team.
Diallo says the program has changed her life. She says she could not play basketball before; now she can. She says she started when she was six years old and that she is now one of the best players at the school.
Dioh says that a successful career on and off the court shows her players that women have the power to create their own opportunities.
Dioh says these girls are not necessarily going to play basketball for a living; they can be other things. She says they can be referees. They can be coaches or even international players who represent their country.
Renata Maniaci says Anne Marie Dioh is a role model for a generation of young Senegalese women.
“They see Anne Marie and they see what she has become and how much she has given back to the women who play basketball. So it really gives them something to strive for,” added Maniaci.
Student Abibatou Diallo says she has learned what it takes to succeed. Dioh, she says, is her idol. She wants to be like her, do what she did and play like her.
Diallo was one of Dioh’s first players. But when her father died, Diallo’s family could no longer afford the program’s fees. Dioh kept her on the team because she says this time in her life is not about making money.
Anne Marie Dioh uses her university salary to subsidize the cost of insurance and uniforms for the team. She says the children who cannot pay are often the players who work the hardest and that she does not want to hold them back simply because of money.