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At Temple, foreign students learn Basketball 101

PHILADELPHIA – As basketball-crazy fans at Temple University gear up for a season of face-painting, sign-waving and frenzied cheering for their beloved Owls, school officials want to make sure a growing cohort of international students joins the crowd.

The athletic department recently teamed up with the Cherry Crusade – the die-hard student fan club named for Temple’s cherry and white colors – to offer a workshop on basketball basics and sports culture.

Foreign students learned how to root for the home team (“Fight, fight, fight for the cherry and the white!”) and how to jeer opposing players (“Aiiirrr-baaall! Aiiirrr-baaall!”). They also practiced skills like passing, dribbling, shooting and defense with members of the men’s and women’s teams.

It’s a way to help the 2,300 international students from 110 nations feel more comfortable on the Philadelphia campus, said Brooke Walker, assistant vice president for international affairs.

Attending rowdy athletic events can be intimidating if you don’t know the game or social protocol, Walker said. So in addition to the clinic, the university is hosting a hospitality suite for foreign students at Monday’s home opener against Kent State.

“The shy ones don’t go out and explore,” Walker said. “We want to bring the kids out.”

The number of international students in the U.S. hit a record high of 764,495 in 2011-12, according to the most recent data available from the New York-based Institute of International Education. Experts say that indicates American higher education continues to be seen as a good investment by students overseas.

Temple – whose most famous sports fan is perhaps comedian and alum Bill Cosby – serves about 37,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Since last year, international enrollment jumped 23 percent, from 1,855 students to 2,281, school officials said.

The growth led to the idea for American Football 101, an on-field workshop in September that drew about 120 students – most of whom had never touched a pigskin before. They tried on pads and helmets, practiced with tackling dummies and attempted to kick some field goals.

And for a school that has found more success on the hardwood than the gridiron, it seemed only natural to hold a basketball clinic as well. About 80 students signed up for the hour-long event last month, including Sophia Chang, a 22-year-old exchange student from Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan.

Chang enjoyed testing her ball-handling abilities, learning to guard other players and joining a team huddle (“DE-FENSE!”). She also practiced fan traditions like silently wiggling her fingers in the air when an Owl shoots a free throw, and yelling taunts like “On you!” when a member of the opposing team commits a foul.

She left with a free T-shirt and poster – and a new appreciation for skills that look so simple on TV.

“Because if you watch the (game) film you will think, ‘Oh, it’s so easy,’” Chang said. “But if you do it, you will find oh my God, it’s so hard.”

The workshops also offer a glimpse into the lives of U.S. student-athletes, who spend part of each day practicing and part attending classes or studying. That’s strikingly different from schools in Asian countries, Walker said, where “you’re either a student or an athlete – you can’t be both.”

Men’s basketball Coach Fran Dunphy told workshop participants that he admired their willingness to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture, and hoped they would become proud Owls fans.

“Wherever you are from,” Dunphy said, “we represent you.”

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