By Greg Bach, Special To The Dispatch
MIZORAM, India – One of Sammy Wilkinson’s many great qualities was that he always thought of others, whether it was becoming an organ and tissue donor or helping out a teammate on the soccer field.
So it was only fitting following his tragic death several years ago at the age of 8, the result of falling through the ice at Northside Park, that his grandfather, Fred Engh, chose to help other children worldwide in Sammy’s honor.
Out of Sammy’s death was born Game On! Youth Sports, a first-of-its-kind approach that is changing lives and putting smiles on children’s faces in some of the world’s most poverty-stricken and war-ravaged regions of the world. In just four short years Game On! Youth Sports has been implemented throughout Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia and has had a life-altering impact on thousands of underprivileged children.
Engh recently returned from Mizoram, India, where an official Memorandum of Understanding was signed to officially launch Game On! Youth Sports in the country. It also laid the groundwork for the program to eventually be held in more than 1,000 primary schools in the coming years.
“This was truly an historic event in the state of Mizoram, which desperately needs sports programming for these children,” said Engh, who made several presentations throughout his visit, including one to more than 20,000 children and dignitaries at the Aizawl Stadium during a special ceremony announcing the launch of Game On! Youth Sports.
Joining Engh on the trip was Sammy’s father, Bob Wilkinson, chairman of the Sammy Wilkinson Memorial World Fund, which raises money and collects sports equipment to distribute to children worldwide through Game On! Both are overseen by the International Alliance for Youth Sports (IAYS), which Engh is the founder and president.
Engh and Wilkinson attended a state dinner hosted by Dr. R. Lalthangliana, the minister of school education for Mizoram. Dr. Lalthangliana noted that Mizoram, which sits on the northeast coast of India, is making great strides and that Game On! fits perfectly into the government’s plan to focus on physical education and promote healthy lifestyles among its children.
“There is nothing more precious in this world than children,” Engh said. “It is up to us to do everything in our power to give all children a life that has meaning, to give them a life that has purpose, and to give them a life that is defined by healthy activities, positive choices and rewarding experiences.”
One of the most attractive features of Game On! Youth Sports is that it does much more than simply provide children with much-needed opportunities to play sports and enjoy physical activity. It also promotes adopting a healthy lifestyle and steers them away from the negative behaviors of crime, violence and drug abuse.
“Sports truly are the outdoor classroom of life and it’s vital that every child in India has the opportunity to participate in them,” Engh said. “Sports help form children’s attitudes, mold their values and define their character while teaching the importance of teamwork, playing by the rules, handling winning with class and losing with dignity, good sportsmanship, putting your best effort forth every time and learning to persevere in times of adversity, among others.”
In Mizoram, poverty has a stranglehold on an alarming number of families. Approximately 70 percent of the workforce is engaged in farming and cultivation.
“We want to help children, regardless of the terrible conditions they have been born into, develop character to become model citizens, to lead productive lives and even to help prepare them to take on leadership roles in the future where they can make a positive difference in society,” Engh said. “And sports are the tool to make that happen.”
During their visit, Engh and Wilkinson also had a chance to visit children at the Ramhlun Sports Complex and fielded questions about the program during a press conference that was attended by more than 50 print and television media.
Wilkinson, a partner of the popular Ocean City band “Opposite Directions,” also had opportunities to share his musical talents during the trip. He performed at the launch of Game On! Youth Sports in front of more than 20,000 people. At the special request of Mizoram’s top government officials, he also sang and played guitar at the state dinner as one of the many talented performers who were on display that evening.
“It was amazing to be a part of something so special and to know that we will change so many young lives for the better through sports,” Wilkinson said. “I know that Sammy would be so proud to know how the Ocean City community has backed Game On! and that we are truly making a difference for all children worldwide in his honor.”
While Game On! Youth Sports is having a positive impact on children around the world, Engh credits much of the success to the Ocean City community for its support of the program.
“Sometimes we overlook the power of people and their efforts to assist in endeavors like this,” Engh said. “As someone who grew up in Ocean City, I am extremely proud of the residents here who each year step forward and through their generous contributions play a major role in the success of Game On! by participating in our annual fund-raising golf tournament and Jam for Sam event at Seacrets.”
Anyone interested in making a contribution to Game On! Youth Sports or obtaining addition information can contact the International Alliance for Youth Sports at 800-729-2057; visit www.iays.org or email [email protected].