FORWARD OPERATING BASE BERNSTEIN, TUZ, Iraq - Until recently, the children of Tuz had few options for extracurricular activities; however, the Tuz Sports Center is changing that.
With daytime and after-school programs that include soccer, volleyball, weightlifting and basketball, administrators invited members of the Tuz City Council and Lt. Col. Chris Stenman, commander of the Special Troops Bn., 3rd Inf. Bde. Combat Team, 25th Inf. Div., to visit their well-equipped complex June 17.
"Our job is concentrated on the youth of this city," said Hassan Hamdan, a manager at the center. "With the City Council and Coalition forces' cooperation, we can meet the needs of Salah ad-Din Province's kids."
The only thing administrators feel the center is lacking is a fence, which they asked councilmember Shalal al-Marhabi and Stenman to help provide.
"As a city council, we are honored to work with you. Before, the focus was on security; now it's on rebuilding. In the near future, by the will of God, sports will be a big part of Iraqi life," Shalal informed the center's managers.
In the coming weeks, the Tuz City Council will address ways to help the sprawling center and begin filing paperwork with the Ministry of Sports in Tikrit to receive funding from the province.
"I'm a politician, not an athlete - I can't play the sports, but we will help them any other way we can," affirmed Shalal.
The center proudly welcomes children and adults of all ethnicities.
"Look at us. He's a Turcoman, I'm Arab, and the gym manager is Kurdish. It doesn't matter - we can all play here," said nineteen year-old Adem Sahad, a regular weightlifter at the center. "If there are women who want to play sports, they come here because they are welcomed."
Classes in Tae Kwon Do, Karate and boxing are given throughout the week; the only day the center isn't open is Friday, which families often spend together rather than pursuing individual interests, according to Adem.
"After I leave school, if I am not working in my father's candy shop, I am learning Tae Kwon Do with Mr. Aziz," said Karar Ali, a nine year-old aspiring martial artist.
Karar's close friend, Mohammad Noor el-Din, visits the Tuz Sports Center six days a week. "If I am in school, I have to wait all day to come here. Now we are not in school - I can come here when I please," said ten year-old Mohammad.
The center boasts several trophies which speak volumes about the dedication of the administrators and their young charges; the administrators are mainly interested in keeping the kids so busy they don't have time to get into trouble, while the kids are enjoying camaraderie and healthy competition with friends.
"When I was a teenager," Stenman told the group, "if I wasn't out on the sports field I was probably out getting into trouble."
According to Hassan, the center is teeming with children most afternoons and they expect a deluge of adults every evening.
"We even have a six-man chess team," said Atheer Ibrahim, a busy teenager who comes to the center when he isn't working with his family. "I'm not on it - I don't like chess - but these guys are really good."
According to Shalal, it's the perfect time for the city council to help the Tuz Sports Center.
"The bad times and terrorist activities are gone. It's done. The people here are getting a feel for democracy... The council, CF and the Sports Center need to work hand in hand to rebuild a new Iraq."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16