This summer we are taking some time to catch up with some former Cyclones to see what they’ve been doing since graduating from Iowa State. Our first Alumnae Spotlight is Lisa (Kreiner) Bishop, who spent four years in northern Iraq with her family teaching. In Iraq, they founded a basketball league called “Highest Hoops.” She recently moved back to Iowa and just accepted a position as the head women’s basketball coach at Solon High School.
After graduating from Iowa State in 2005, Lisa (Kreiner) Bishop went on a path that most graduates don’t take. Her path wasn’t planned, but it’s one she wouldn’t trade.
It all started when she moved to Iowa City in 2005 with her husband, Andy, and felt the urge to move overseas and reach another culture. With a large international student population in Iowa City, the two began having a heart for the world and eventually discovered an organization based out of Nashville that sends Americans to northern Iraq.
“There’s a lot of international students here in Iowa City and just the more we were growing in our faith, the more we felt like we wanted to go overseas and that’s something that God was kind of calling us to do,” Bishop said. “We were just kind of open to the idea but had no idea where or what that would look like.”
In April of 2010, Lisa and Andy packed their bags and moved to Duhok, Kurdistan, Iraq, with their then- 13-month old son. The couple would both serve as teachers in a Christian school in Duhok, with Lisa teaching art and Andy teaching science and humanities.
The family spent 10 months a year in Iraq and returned to the United States for two months in the summer. They would become immersed in the Duhok community and connected with many locals during their four years in Iraq.
“We have a lot of memories from our time over there,” Bishop said. “There were just a lot of really special friendships. There is cultural frustration—don’t get me wrong— and it wasn’t easy by any means, but the relationships that we had were ones that we will never forget and friends that we will never forget and lots of memories.”
After two years in Duhok, they got an idea to start training the youth to play basketball in order to encourage more community outreach. Lisa noticed that many of the young girls in Duhok didn’t have an outlet outside of school. Most of them went to school and returned home to help their mothers around the house. There simply weren’t any organized activities for girls in the town.
They started off as a four-week clinic to focus on life skills and basketball fundamentals with kids at their school. They also reached out to other local schools in the area and visited about 20 different schools around town and invited them to participate in youth basketball training.
That’s how “Highest Hoops” was born.
For a year and a half the couple trained children from across Duhok to play basketball.
“Starting Highest Hoops was one of the greatest opportunities God has given me,” Bishop said. “It was a chance to use the gifts He has given me to love and serve others so that He is given more glory in a land that has been broken by war and hate. I believe that some of the Highest Hoops players have been “paying it forward” and helping their country in small ways since we have left. I’m very thankful to have been involved in something that truly makes a difference in that part of the world.”
After four years in Iraq they decided it was best to return to America. They started training locals in Iraq to take over coaching in their absence so the program would continue.
Just two weeks after returning to the United States, they got word that ISIS invaded parts of northern Iraq and the town of Duhok was now the home of 500,000 refugees who had fled from the terrorist group. Many members of the community also began fleeing to Turkey, Canada and Lebanon among other places to ensure their safety. Refugees who were unable to flee the country took shelter in schools, gyms and construction sites.
“Things just kind of got crazy at that point, and I don’t even think we can— even though we lived there two weeks prior to that happening—even really fathom what the city was like at that point and how much fear and what they were going through,” Bishop said.
With basketball on a temporary hiatus, the young students have not abandoned Highest Hoops altogether. Instead, in light of the circumstances, they implemented the life skills the Bishops preached, about being a good person, making good choices and helping others.
“A lot of them, which is really encouraging, have gone to the refugee camps and served in that way,” Bishop said. “A lot of the players that we were training, they have a heart to serve others just because of other things that we have tried to pull into their lives and encouraged them to look beyond themselves and into other people. That has kind of been how they have continued is nothing to do with basketball, but by really loving on the refugees that are there.”
After returning to Iowa, Bishop saw a posting for the head girls’ basketball coach at Solon High School. She was immediately intrigued as she has always wanted to be a high school coach.
“[Coaching at Solon] also wasn’t really in the plan,” she said jokingly. “When we moved back, we knew that we wanted to be part of the Solon area. We are both from smaller towns, like Solon, so we found a house in Solon. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the most part. I did a little bit of basketball, a little bit of teaching, but my main role has been to be a stay-at-home mom which has been amazing, but then this opening for the head varsity job opened up and it was something that I feel like I have wanted to do, was be a varsity coach ever since I was a freshman in high school. So my husband and I just talked and prayed a lot about it and we just feel like this is an opportunity that would be a really good fit. So I applied and I got offered the job.”
Part of her eagerness to coach high school basketball stems from seeing the opportunity to not only teach basketball but to be a mentor for the athletes.
“I’m really excited to get the opportunity to work with the girls and work with basketball but feel like I have a heart for life skills and to be a good role model and a mentor for the girls as well as being a basketball coach,” she said.
A lot of her coaching style is modeled from her what she learned from her high school coach and also Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly, who coached her from 2001-05. What she appreciated most about Fennelly was that he cared the student athletes off the court. He always asked about school and family.
“[The way he interacted with us] was just something I appreciated because I loved basketball, but it wasn’t my life,” she said. “He modeled that really, really well. By him showing that there’s more to life than just basketball and showing that he truly loved and cared for us for who we were and not just what he felt like we brought to the program. He really cared for us as young adults and just by him investing in our academics and our family life and really caring for us, doing the right thing, and treating people they way you want to be treated.”
She admits she uses a few of Fennelly’s motivational taglines when she coaches and plans to continue the trend at Solon. Her go-to is “Stick together, play hard, have fun,” which was in the locker room during her time at Iowa State.
Between moving to Iraq, starting a basketball league and becoming the head coach at Solon, the last 10 years have been a whirlwind for Bishop and her family. However, it goes to show that sometimes the best things in life aren’t planned.