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VOL. 41 | NO. 30 | Friday, July 28, 2017

‘Life-changing’ trip to Vietnam for Midstate Vols

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Nashville’s Kyle Phillips, visiting the SOS Children’s Village in Ho Chi Minh City during his trip to Vietnam with VOLeaders. Murfreesboro’s Jack Jones also made the trip.

-- Twitter.Com/Voleaders

Nashville’s Kyle Phillips never knew how good he had it as a University of Tennessee football player. Not until he went to Vietnam with The VOLeaders Academy for a 13-day study with numerous other student-athletes from UT. They left June 29 and returned two weeks later.

“Make the most of what you have,” Phillips said last week of his Vietnam experience.

“Going over there, they don’t have the best facilities. Most of the places we went to didn’t have air conditioning, but they still enjoyed what they did have.

“They enjoyed what they had and were appreciative of that, and that’s something I can take and implement to our team, to just know you don’t have to have the best of the best to be successful. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got.”

The second-year program is a partnership between the UT athletics department, the UT Center for Leadership and Service and the Center for Sport, Peace and Society. It’s a program spanning three different areas of campus: academics, student life and athletics.

Jack Jones, a junior offensive lineman from Murfreesboro Oakland High, basketball player Admiral Schofield also made the trip. Like Phillips, Schofield noted the stark differences in life here and there.

“It was a life-changing experience,” Schofield admitted. “One of the biggest things for me was just seeing the facilities. We went to the Olympic facility and National Training facility, and just to see the condition that they were in, it couldn’t even touch our T-REC (student recreation center at Tennessee) here.

“It’s amazing to step back and see the perspective of where I was, and coming back from there appreciating what we really have here. Not saying that I didn’t appreciate it before, but really appreciating how nice things are.

“The way we have things set up here at Tennessee is amazing. How they just make use of what they have and make the best of their opportunities over there is pretty amazing.”

Tennessee’s student-athletes in the study were nominated by their coaches more than a year ago and went through an interview process for their candidacy into the program.

Once selected, they completed two courses in the College of Education, Health and Human Science and spent a year of preparation in the program, which aims to inspire student-athletes to find ways to use their passion for sport and their influence to enact positive change that goes beyond their success in sports.

“We had to interview, and you were hand-picked by those guys (leaders of the program),” explained Phillips, a junior defensive end who played at Nashville Hillsboro High.

“It was a whole year of learning about sports and how our platform of sports can influence others in a positive and a negative way. It’s been a great program.”

You could say Phillips was born to be in The VOLeaders Academy.

Jack Jones, a junior from Murfreesboro Oakland

-- Dave Link | The Ledger

His mother, Teresa Lawrence-Phillips, has been the athletic director at Tennessee State University since 2002. She was a three-year letter winner in basketball at Vanderbilt University, where she earned her bachelor’s in economics and master’s in education, and was women’s basketball coach at Fisk for four years before taking the same position at Tennessee State from 1989-2000.

“It’s been a great experience having a mom like mine,” Kyle Phillips acknowledged. “Being a woman with such power, it’s really just inspiring to know that you can put your foot down and do what you believe in and things will work out.

“You have to work hard. This is a world where nothing’s given to you. You have to take it. That’s something I’ve implemented in my life so far, and that’s what got me where I am so far.”

There were long days in Vietnam.

Schofield said he and Phillips woke up at 6:15 each day and worked out. After breakfast and shower, they left the hotel by 8 a.m. with the rest of the student-athletes and began their itinerary for the day.

They worked with children in orphanages and volunteered at sports skill camps. They visited with university students, Vietnam national athletes and para-Olympic athletes. They toured the Vietnam Embassy, museums and other cultural destinations vital to the Vietnam heritage.

Then there was the food.

Phillips admitted the food provided some culture shock, too.

“To be honest, I tried to eat American food, for the most part, but it was still different,” Phillips explained. “They season it different ways, like fish oil. I really didn’t like it, but it was still a good experience to try.”

Jones was just as appreciative of the experience.

Kyle Phillips, a junior from Nashville’s Hillsboro High

-- Dave Link | The Ledger

His only time of discomfort on the trip came before they got to Vietnam.

“Getting on that airplane,” Jones said. “It was a little tight, but it wasn’t that bad. Really, everyone there was so accepting. It was really, really, really cool to see that.

“There was never a moment when I felt uncomfortable. They had provided everything we needed. It was cool.”

One day, Jones and Schofield conducted a basketball camp for youth.

Their takeaway from the camp differed.

“Jack was my partner,” said Schofield, a junior from Zion, Illinois. “He didn’t know anything about basketball, but he did a good job and brought a lot of energy.”

Jones, who also played basketball at Oakland High, defended his hoops skills.

“Let’s just get this down pat,” Jones pointed out. “I was the one who was teaching the kids the technique of basketball out there.

“Admiral can dunk it and all that, and they were going crazy, but I was the one getting the fundamentals built in.”

Jones called the trip “a once-in-a-lifetime experience” and a “eye-opening experience.”

“Being thankful for all we’ve got,” Jones said. “You see a lot on the news, people talking bad about the country. You know, there’s some things that do need to be fixed, but we do have it good over here, and that’s something I think everyone needs to remember.

“It was really cool to go over there. Vietnam is still on the rise in the business world.

“You meet all these people, and every person has a side gig they’re starting up, a business or something. It was really cool to talk to the young generation. We visited a college one day. It was cool to see they’re really, really, really thriving, and it was cool to see that growth.”

Jones said he learned plenty that applies to football during the Vietnam trip and will share with his teammates as the 2017 season approaches.

Tennessee’s players report for fall camp Friday, and their first practice is Saturday.

The Vols start the season Sept. 4 against Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games in Atlanta. Alabama plays Florida State in the first Chick-fil-A game on Sept. 2 in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I think going over there and working with these kids in sports, you see sports can bring anyone together,’ Jones said.

“We’ve got all these new freshmen coming in, and they might be from all over the country, but football is bringing us together.

“It’s kind of cool to see how it’s working over there (in Vietnam), and it’s good to see how it’s working now going into the (football) season.”

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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