Metro native taking basketball to war-torn Kashmir

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The love for a sport can bridge gaps between people.

A metro native has found a way to use basketball to comfort young people in war-torn Kashmir on the border of Pakistan.

Basketball makes the world go 'round. Shahid Bhatt might be proof.

Bhatt was born in Kansas City, but his parents were immigrants from Kashmir, a disputed region India and Pakistan have been fighting over for decades. In the 1990's, as many as 100,000 people died during fighting between Pakistani and Indian forces.

That hasn't prevented Bhatt from entwining his sport with his heritage. Since 2009, the Barstow High and University of Kansas grad has made four trips to Kashmir, all for the purpose of teaching basketball to Kashmiri kids.

"Sports is an incredible tool to reach out to young people," Bhatt said. "They just naturally are drawn towards it."

Here in the states, Bhatt works as a coach at the Islamic School of Kansas City, helping that school start a varsity hoops program. In Kashmir, he's taught round ball to thousands of kids as a means of getting away from the bloody violence of war.

"He's shown me a couple of videos from out there," Fahad Akhtar. Bhatt's student, said. "He's always taking pictures. He loves taking pictures of those guys. It's always good, seeing those guys and how happy they are."

"He just wanted to give back to the community," Rohail Ali, Bhatt's student, said. "He just wanted to help out, and do what he can to help out his community."

Bhatt points out another big difference between the US and Kashmir. In India, there's no college basketball. Nonetheless, the students involved in his camps are attracting the attention of universities and the potential for academic scholarships is suddenly there.

"The rewards from doing this aren't monetary, and they aren't ego," Bhatt said. "What you will get is the satisfaction of young people who come up and shake your hand and show their appreciation."

And a game with a ball can help change their world.

Bhatt says he's planning his next trip to Kashmir for early next year, and he'd like to introduce his students to American football.

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