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January 27, 2009

24th Annual Spartan 5K

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January 21, 2009

Former Athens Academy Grad Lends Helping Hand in Tanzania

By David Ching
Article originally appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald on Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One might think a summer spent teaching English to African grade schoolers would have limited future applications for someone hoping to become a college football coach in America.
Tyler Brantley, a 2005 Athens Academy graduate who recently completed his final college season playing defensive back at Sewanee, says that couldn't be further from the truth.
"Wherever you go and whoever you're around, you have the opportunity to positively influence the situations you encounter," Brantley said. "That's something that I think if you take that outlook and you take that approach to anything you're doing, whether it's coaching or teaching or working with kids in Africa, you can't get anything but the best out of the situation from both ends."
That philosophy was only reinforced by Brantley's adventures nearly 8,100 miles from his hometown of Danielsville.
Brantley and Beau Gilmore, his childhood friend and teammate on the Athens Academy football team, spent most of May and June of 2007 working in Moshi, Tanzania - a town at the base of the highest mountain on the African continent, Mount Kilimanjaro.
They volunteered to work in the country through an organization called Cross-Cultural Solutions, whose programs throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America center on education, healthcare, caregiving and community development.
For Gilmore, a biology and exercise science student at Georgia who plans to enter medical school, that meant work in many medical capacities - from duties in a rural clinic, to offering vaccinations and supplementation, to helping test for AIDS, which has become a major medical epidemic in the area.
It engendered in him the desire to one day return to the area and provide further assistance to a community whose optimism in the face of sometimes crippling poverty was inspirational.
"I have such a great desire to go back there in serve in some capacity, just because preventable disease is the No. 1 killer there - particularly dehydration," Gilmore said. " ... Knowing that we have treatments and that Western medicine can cure this and just bridging that gap between availability and economic insufficiency is something I really want to try to do."
Meanwhile Brantley, who hopes to become a coach and teacher following graduation from Sewanee in May, spent much of his time teaching his native language in a small room brimming with energetic fifth- and sixth-grade children at Pasua Primary School.
Taking charge of four classes with approximately 60 children apiece was an experience in itself, but Brantley was moved by the children's inquisitiveness.
"They were some of the most eager kids I've ever encountered in terms of wanting to learn and really having the initiative to take care of what they needed to," he said.
Witnessing that attitude, he said, was among the most rewarding experiences of the trip. Spending a portion of his summer in that community - and a few additional weeks there after their volunteer commitment had ended, hiking Kilimanjaro and visiting the country's neighboring island, Zanzibar - offered a fresh perspective to a young American citizen.
"I think anytime you're put in situations where you're struggling to take care of basic needs, that kind of stuff, community comes out of that," Brantley said. "I think we have in the U.S. and a lot of Westernized nations, we have a lot of individualistic approaches to those kinds of things.
"We're not worrying about where we're gonna get food or water from to put on the dinner table, for the most part. ... Over there, some of that draws them together."
The trip to Tanzania was just one of the numerous campus and community service activities that occupied much of Brantley's time in college. He credits his parents, John and Patty, and the emphasis placed on serving others at Athens Academy and Sewanee for instilling in him the importance of helping others.
Because of that commitment, Brantley was among 22 college players from across the nation named to the American Football Coaches Association's Good Works Team, which was recently recognized at halftime of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
While Brantley was no slouch as a football player, leading the NCAA Division III Tigers in tackles with 71, the Good Works nomination process places no emphasis on on-field achievement.
Big names like Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy of Texas - who traveled on Peru on a mission trip and actively volunteers with Fellowship of Christian Athletes - made the list, but so did lesser-known players like Northern Colorado defensive back Michael Van Portfliet, who donated bone marrow to an anonymous 26-year-old female patient in honor of a former teammate, Sam Safken, who died of leukemia.
The opportunity to meet his fellow football Good Works Team members in New Orleans was a thrilling way to complete his college career, Brantley said.
"They were all just a phenomenal group of men," he said.
Now with graduation rapidly approaching, Brantley is setting his sights on future goals. Beginning this week, that includes an active search for a graduate assistant position as a college football coach or another such teaching internship.
It's a profession Brantley's traveling partner believes will suit him well, following the lessons they learned much closer to home - from their Athens Academy coach, Michael Gunn.
"(Gunn) loves his players for so many reasons," Gilmore said. "I became a coach (at Athens Academy) the year after I graduated. I know how much he cares about those boys and I know Tyler would care just as much about their academics and their personal development.
"He'd be that well-balanced coach that encourages them in the classroom and on the field and puts the academics first, because that's the way it needs to be."
It didn't take a trip to teach in Africa for Brantley, a recognized scholar at Sewanee, to prove his commitment to education. But he may have needed that experience to fully understand just how much progress can be made when a teacher with a giving heart encounters a pupil with a willing mind and an enthusiastic spirit.
It's a lesson that applies for teachers everywhere, whether at Athens Academy or Pasua Primary School in Moshi, Tanzania.