Story by BRANDON GARSIDE • Photos by BENJAMIN ZACK • Standard-Examiner Staff
Lulu Latu, a counselor at the secure facility, started the program after she saw the positive effect her late husband, Alavini, had on at-risk youth through coaching rugby.
“I wanted to keep his legacy going,” Latu said. “I wanted to take sports and his legacy through rugby and create an overall sports clinic ... to help take those skills you can learn from sports and encourage (the youth) to use it when they get back in the community.”
Similar to adult prisons, secure facilities like Mill Creek hold delinquent youth and rehabilitate them to re-enter society.
While the intent of the program is to help residents improve their lives, Weber State assistant coach Kite Afeaki also believes his team can benefit from the experience.
“There’s a couple of them that were probably one step away from being a facility like this when they were in high school,” Afeaki said. “We preach to our student-athletes the game of life. It’s bigger than football. It gives us glimpse of what we can do, how we can touch people’s lives.
“I think this partnership is going to be long term,” he said.
Junior linebacker Legrand Toia was one of the players volunteering Wednesday, June 7, and hoped he could inspire the children in the facility.
“I think it’s a big deal,” Toia said. “I’ve had a lot of trials in my life to put me where I am today, and just to show these kids where I’m at, I hope it gives them hope that they can get up and do stuff by themselves when they get out of here.”
In addition to sharing their life experiences and how to overcome challenges, the volunteers also ran the children through football drills in the facility’s yard.
WSU running back coach Quinton Ganther, who made a career in the NFL after a rough childhood growing up in Oakland, California, said he relates to the youth inside the facility and hopes that they can learn from his life.
“I was a kid that was in a facility like this, so I understand,” Ganther said. “One of the biggest attributes that I have as a coach and as a person, is I have experience throughout life. I hope they can use me as much as possible.”
Just like football isn’t everyone’s favorite sport, it’s also not the only type of sports clinic organized by the program. Several other Weber State teams like basketball, volleyball, soccer and softball have also volunteered at the facility.
“It feels great. The outpour of support through Weber State and the willingness to help a good cause and help our at-risk youth feels great,” Latu said. “I’m sure it means more to the youth than it does to me, but that’s the whole idea. It’s refreshing for them.
“They see us all the time, but to see somebody that they see on TV and identify with speaks volumes for them.”
Contact sports reporter Brandon Garside at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.