In a world thousands of miles away from our idea of football, lies a place where once the game washed ashore, its children would be forever mesmerized. There are no fancy stadiums here. No elaborate booster clubs providing the teams with brand new footwear and catered team dinners. In American Samoa, you will encounter a place where coconuts act as cones, players are seen practicing barefoot and the fields contain lava- not Astroturf. Now we’ll learn more about “Football Island” and the non-profit organization which is making quite an impact…
Wild at Heart: “Samoans are the friendliest, most loving people you’ll ever meet. They love the game and play with immense heart”, shares SMU Head Football Coach June Jones. It is his organization, The June Jones Foundation that is shining a light on the needs of American Samoa. But for a territory that’s population is as 60 Minutes discovered, smaller than a pro-football stadium’s attendance, the island sends more players to the NFL than any similarly inhabited place in America. That’s impressive considering their limited access to modern athletic equipment, medical treatment, and opportunities.
But every year, Coach Jones and a delegation of NCAA and NFL players of Samoan descent travel to the island on an inspirational Goodwill Mission; their efforts provide medical supplies, medicine, athletic apparel and even scholarships to the American Samoa people. “The American Samoa Goodwill Mission has made a positive difference in the lives of others,” said Coach Jones. He and the NFL players also participate in several youth education initiatives that are sponsored by Mary Ann Taufa’asau Tulafono, the First Lady of American Samoa.
But in an environment that makes them tough, this special culture is more than the physical size that made them legendary; it’s the culture of hard work, dedication and kindness that seems to cause this eruption of talent. When there are no locker rooms present, and much of the equipment used would not be allowed for play stateside due to its antiquation, it’s their heart that sets them apart.
Polynesian Power: People are taking notice of the unique players of American Samoa; even the NFL and USA Football have become further involved starting youth programs on the island. But so much more can and needs to be done; the sadness is that there are two ways off the island-join the military or gain a football scholarship. But the second option isn’t as easy as it sounds as getting into an American college means passing the SAT’s-and when English is your second language, this makes the verbal section extremely hard without the proper assistance. Coach Jones recognizes this issue and shared how these kids have an unshakable will. He has seen athletes struggle and fail the U.S. requirements to play in the NCAA; but it’s their warrior spirit that keeps them pressing on until they can realize their destiny.
The foundation will continue to provide assistance as this June, the 8th Annual June Jones Celebrity Golf Classic will take place in Maui, immediately followed by the 5th Annual American Samoa Goodwill Mission in Pago Pago. Undoubtedly, Coach Jones’ passion for the game and the heart of a remarkable people are a sports story to follow for years to come. So now when game day rolls around, remember those special kids thousands of miles away, where the game is pure and their dreams are big.
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