When Silver Bluff junior Teniqu Cushman was called to the office on a September morning, she wasn’t sure what to think. The girls’ basketball player walked into a room with counselors and was presented a letter.

Upon reading it, Cushman found out she had been nominated to represent the state of South Carolina in a program called Down Under Sports. No one in the room had heard of the organization, and given how many hoaxes there are in the world, everyone wanted to do their due diligence and research about just what and who they were.

“When I first got the letter I was in disbelief,” Cushman said. “I showed it to the counselors and we all looked everything up to make sure it was real. It was crazy that the letter came to the school. I showed it to Roxanna (Cheek, a teammate on the Silver Bluff basketball team) and she said how happy she was for me. But we wanted to make sure it was real.”

Down Under Sports was founded in 1989, and it was based on the dream of George O’Scanlon. Scanlon was in love with athletics, particularly football, and he wanted to promote it more in his home country of New Zealand, as well as Australia, where he had also lived. He then started the Down Under Bowl, which led to the Down Under Hoops Classic and the Down Under International Games. This year’s competition will include track and field, cross country, wrestling, football, volleyball and – of course – basketball.

The program gives athletes a chance to compete head-to-head with opponents from all across the globe. Past participants include former NFL players Jake Plummer, Ahman Green and Rob Morris.

“She’s a good basketball player defensively for us,” Silver Bluff head coach Lashanteau Green said. “… I’m willing to help her any way I can.”

Cushman was nominated anonymously, according to her mother, Judy Bryant, who believes it was likely a coach or teacher. Cushman had an opportunity to play in Australia in 7th-grade, but finances and her youth prevented her from participating in the trip.

“Back then I thought she was too young,” Bryant said.

Cushman said her mother, who also played high school basketball, made the right choice.

“I’m glad I am getting to go now instead of when I was in 7th-grade,” she said. “I’m a lot older and wiser. It’s a learning experience and I couldn’t be more grateful for the nomination.”

For the trip to become a reality, Cushman must raise the necessary funds, which total up to a little more than $5,000. Currently her family has raised roughly $2,000 and the money will be due in the middle of March.

Bryant has helped organize a number of fundraisers, which included selling Krispy Kreme donuts and arranging parties. She plans to sell T-shirts and once the weather warms up, hold a car wash. She has also gotten the family’s church, Indian Grove Baptist, involved.

“She’s always played basketball, for the past seven years that’s all she’s done,” Bryant said. “She’s been on three AAU teams as well. One way or another, she’ll be going to Australia in June.”

For her part, Cushman has taken this opportunity as a chance to improve herself.

“I’ve improved my attitude on the court a lot, I used to be worried about getting injured,” she said. “But it feels so good to represent South Carolina and to do something like this. I thank God each and every morning for allowing me to do this.”

Scott Rodgers is a graduate of Alvernia University and a staff writer at the Aiken Standard.