Coach for College gives athletes a chance to experience world, give back

Something has happened in Krzyzewskiville.

Duke has teamed up with North Carolina.

(Insert gasp here.)

Yes, the bitter rivals located just eight miles apart have joined forces to start an ambitious overseas program with the potential to become bigger than both of them. Parker Goyer, a former Duke tennis player who graduated in 2007, is the creator and driving force behind Coach for College, a summer youth program led by 20 Duke and Carolina athletes in Vietnam teaching the benefits of sports to fifth- through ninth-graders. Its purpose is twofold: to help American student-athletes experience life beyond sports, and to expose young foreign athletes to role models who can show them success through sports.

"For the youth, they don't really have access to sports infrastructure or equipment in Vietnam," Goyer said. "They don't have the sports leagues or the facilities, anything we have in the U.S. that allowed a lot of the athletes to get to where they are today.

"From the athletes' perspective, when you're an athlete, you basically have two full-time jobs: your school and your sport. You don't have time for anything else, really. As a result, you don't get the same kind of education as a lot of other students. You don't really volunteer that much in the community, you don't study abroad. A lot of athletes, when they have to quit their sport after college, they kind of experience an identity loss. They don't have anything else to fall back on. But the positive part, athletes have developed all of these unique skills through sports -- like solving problems, dedication, work ethic, sacrifice, teamwork -- that would be really good to pass on to youth."

Adding the twist of one of the most storied rivalries in college athletics was part of the plan.

"I did it on purpose actually," said Goyer, who was chosen for the prestigious Robertson Scholars Program. "Being a part of the Robertson program first made me want to collaborate with UNC, and I thought it would really set a tone if we could start this program that's kind of focused on increasing relationships with other countries with two rival schools."

If this summer's pilot program succeeds, her goal is to keep the rivalry theme alive and have schools such as Virginia and Virginia Tech participate next year.

The 20 Duke and Carolina athletes -- from rowers to wrestlers -- will partner with bilingual physical education students from Can Tho University to coach 200 students from Hoa An Secondary School through two summer sessions. The first session, which began July 7 and was for sixth- and seventh-graders, ends July 25. Another group of coaches will travel for the second session, July 28 to Aug. 15, and will work with eighth- and ninth-graders. By the time the three-week sessions are over, the young students will have covered five sports -- badminton, basketball, soccer, tennis and volleyball -- all sports they can play using a court that was built recently. Each athlete will teach only one of the sports for the entire session.

"I'm thinking if we could somehow instill the things we know into the kids at a young enough age, they can hopefully strive to whatever they want to do in life," said Casey Hales, who graduated from Duke in May after four years as the long-snapper for the football team. "I feel like there's a lot of things you can learn from playing sports -- teamwork, competitiveness -- all those tools and use that to propel them to whatever they want to do in their lives."

UNC rower Carly Dressler is hoping to get something out of it, too.

"I've always wanted to coach basketball," said Dressler, whose father, Mike, played basketball at Tulane before a long high school coaching career and whose uncle, Mark, played at Missouri. "When I came back to school [from spring break], there was this e-mail sitting in my inbox about coaching overseas. For me, it was literally the perfect opportunity. There was no doubt in my mind I was going to apply for it and see what came about with it."

Goyer first learned about Vietnam through her faculty adviser and went there last spring to do a four-week feasibility study for a separate civic engagement project that had nothing to do with sports. While there, she saw the need for a sports and educational infrastructure. The Robertson fellowship, a full merit scholarship for Duke and UNC undergraduates that promotes collaboration between the schools and focuses on entrepreneurship, gave her the opportunity to pursue this project.

Leaders in academia at both universities gush over Goyer, saying her determination to bring this program to Vietnam was what prompted them to donate thousands to help make her idea a reality. She had to get approval from the NCAA and involve the highest level of officials at each university. She also went to Peacework to help with logistics. Goyer began fundraising in January and in four months, she raised $220,000 -- plus a donation of 100 shoes from Nike.

"She has tremendous tenacity and just would not quit and refused to give up," said former UNC chancellor Jim Moeser, who allotted $43,000 to the program. "I think she won over all the people that were skeptical at first. I wasn't necessarily skeptical, but it's a big idea and my worry was whether she could pull it off."

Steve Nowicki, dean of undergraduate education at Duke, had no doubt. He and Duke provost Peter Lange were the first in the Duke administration to see its merit.

"Parker is a remarkable young woman," Nowicki said. "She is a force of nature. She had a vision, and she had had a number of doors closed on her but she kept at it.

"We're still taking a chance here. This is an experiment. Parker has gotten a lot of support, financial support, logistic support. Is this going to work? I don't know, but it's worth a chance."

Goyer also has the support of the NCAA, which is contributing $10,000. Robert Vowels, the NCAA's vice president of education services, called what Goyer has done "short of amazing."

"She's stepped up," he said. "Bridging the gap with countries and nations with intercollegiate athletics is something some folks have tried in the past to do -- some successfully, some unsuccessfully -- but doing it in this manner, setting it up with the educational piece, was extremely important to us and it really caught our eye."

Not that there weren't a few tweaks and digs as the collaboration began.

"We're the greatest of rivals because of the basketball rivalry. Everybody really knows each other. Behind the rivalry, the students date, the faculty collaborate on research, the administrators all know each other. Parker very much saw the beginning of this as being both Duke and UNC athletes. That was a great idea," Nowicki said. "She went and she was talking to administrators over at UNC and they weren't persuaded as easily as we were at Duke. Maybe she spent less time over there, but boy, I'll tell you as soon as Peter Lange (the provost) and I ponied up a fair chunk of change to make sure this would work, Peter sent a little note over to his counterpart at UNC, and the lead of this note was wonderful -- sort of a little twist saying it sure would be unfortunate if Carolina couldn't participate in this, and sure enough, Chapel Hill came up with money, too."

The UNC athletic department contributed $15,000 on top of the $43,000 allotted by Moeser.

"I think it's a wonderful example of how we can compete tenaciously and still collaborate on things that are ultimately more important for humanity and the good of the world," Moeser said. "I think it's a credit to both our institutions, especially our athletes. … I think the intensity of the rivalry makes it even more meaningful."

Of course, there are still limitations to this relationship.

"When it comes to basketball season," said Duke soccer player Kendall Bradley, "all bets are off."

Heather Dinich covers college sports for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.