Monday, June 29, 2009

On a Mission to Samoa

Samson Satele could have kicked back in his limited down time prior to reporting to his first training camp with the Oakland Raiders.

Instead, the former Hawaii offensive lineman is taking some time to help teach the game to youths in American Samoa.

"This is my week break right here," Satele said. "There's nothing better than going down to Samoa and helping the kids out a little."

Satele is part of the contingent that departed yesterday bound for Pago Pago as part of the American Samoa Football Academy and Medical Mission headed by former Hawaii and current SMU head coach June Jones.

The June Jones Foundation established the mission last year. Along with Jones, current Warriors coach Greg McMackin and former UH players Jesse Sapolu and Ma'a Tanuvasa are returning for the second year.

"Those kids are so receptive and so respectful, it's an awesome feeling to go out there and see so many Samoan brothers out there," Tanuvasa said. "They just soak everything in.

"They're catching up to us, but a lot of the kids are coming in slippers and bare feet and still kind of grasping the game. The coaches out there have done a great job; they already know a lot of the basics."

Satele, UH assistants Craig Stutzmann and Tony Tuioti, former UH lineman Ta'ase Faumui also made the trip. Jack Thompson, known as the "Throwin' Samoan" during his days at Washington State and with the Cincinnati Bengals, will also be part of the clinics.

It's a homecoming of sorts for Tuioti, who was born in Samoa before his family moved to California when he was nine months old.

"The kids are passionate about their football. They work as hard as our kids here, they just don't have the resources and facilities," Tuioti said. "It really is humbling to see the love people have (for Samoa) and see the spirit and I'm really excited."

Close to 1,000 high school athletes -- up from 500 last year -- are expected to participate in the free clinics today and tomorrow at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Pago Pago.

The mission will also provide nearly $400,000 in medical supplies and services, $50,000 in football equipment, five $2,000 scholarships and several hundred pairs of football shoes.

Ellie Taft-Reinebold, the wife of SMU assistant Jeff Reinebold, is leading the medical mission along with a group of certified nurses and doctors.

Jones established the mission last year after visiting American Samoa on recruiting trips starting in 1999.

"I went down there and I had a vision that we needed to help," Jones said. "They didn't even have footballs, playing barefoot."

He saw even more pressing issues away from the field.

"Normally a ratio is one (nurse) to every four to five patients," Jones said. "In Samoa it's one nurse to 80 patients. They have a tremendous need."

McMackin noted the connections made with the athletes and coaches in Samoa can benefit recruiting, but "I really believe it's more than football," he said.

"It's getting to know the people, it's getting to bring the people together."

Sapolu also announced the formation of the Samoa 'Ioe Foundation. The organization will be led by Sapolu, Thompson and Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who proclaimed yesterday "Samoa 'Ioe Foundation Day."

Among the foundation's goals will be to build football fields and provide equipment. Sapolu said Jones has been in contact with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL owners in trying to raise support for the foundation's efforts.

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