I would have liked to have received more positive encouragement when I was a kid playing sports. Because I saw and even endured the negative bullying tactics of some team coaches when I was younger, I ultimately came to create and found the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS).
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fred Engh who has been involved in youth sports for over thirty years — as a coach, athletic director, and sports educator. In 1981, he founded a program that evolved into The National Alliance For Youth Sports (NAYS), a nonprofit organization that works to provide safe sports for America’s youth. As president of the Alliance, Engh has appeared on numerous television shows, including Dateline NBC and 20/20.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland when racial discrimination was part of everyday living. Blacks were not permitted in social areas with whites. In the 1960s, things changed. Blacks no longer accepted “Jim Crow” laws. Riots began to form. Amidst these tense times, I decided to attend an all-Black college. It was not to prove anything. It was the only opportunity I had to receive a degree in my chosen field of Physical Education.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
I actually had a learning disability when I was young, and never read a book until my late twenties.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Being immature, I turned down a full athletic scholarship to a university. I joined the Army instead. The experience was a blessing in disguise. The Army experience provided a GI Bill opportunity, which made it possible for me to attend and finish college.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
My book wasn’t written to make a social impact. It is simply an unlikely story of two people of different races becoming friends at a time when society frowned on our friendship.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
When my friend, Bob Taylor, a Black standout football player on the college team, asked me if I played golf. I told him yes. He loved golf as much as I. We became partners on the college golf team and traveled throughout the mid-Atlantic for our golf matches with other colleges. Being the only white person in a car with other Black players on the team caused fear on many occasions.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
Again, I was just writing about a very unique situation going to an all-Black college. The experiences that I had were very unique, which is why I think people may find them interesting. Those experiences gave me a great perspective to be able to see things from a point of view that most people didn’t get to experience. If that helps others in today’s environment, that’s great!
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
The person that was helped by my cause was me. If anyone reads the story in the book and it helps them become more understanding of others, then great. But again, my intention was not to try to change people.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
1)Try to see people for who they are, not how they look.
2)Do what is necessary to ensure that everyone is given a chance each day based on their merits.
3)Always look to maintain tolerance in all things, and fairness — that is a big part of what I have brought throughout my career and life to my organization, the National for Alliance Youth Sports (NAYS).
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is the ability to challenge others to achieve success at their chosen work.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- I felt from the beginning that I knew how to write. I soon found out that I was a minor league writer. Jann Seal who guided me throughout is the person who made this book what it ultimately is — I lived it, but she helped me to bring it to life on the page.
- While my parents were always loving and supportive to me and my siblings, I suppose I wish that I had known early on that not every path one’s life takes is necessarily a bad or aimless one. If I had known that when I was in my 20s, perhaps my mother and I wouldn’t have had as much stress between us. But that’s life — if you’re lucky, you come to learn it on your own. I did.
- I would have liked to have received more positive encouragement when I was a kid playing sports. Because I saw and even endured the negative bullying tactics of some team coaches when I was younger, I ultimately came to create and found the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS). I made it a large part of my life’s work to improve the sports experience for our country’s youth, so I’m a success story. There were a lot of kids all those years ago who led different lives because they weren’t treated right by coaches — life can be tough enough for young people, they don’t need ill-treatment or thought distortion from adults when they’re trying their best.
- I suppose I wish someone from the future had gotten into a time machine back in the early ’60s to tell me and my Black fellow golf teammates that a Black man would become President of the United States in 2008. I think it would’ve given us that much more hope about the future here in this country — that, and perhaps an advance tip on buying some shares of Amazon.com stocks early [laughs].
- Lastly, I guess I wish that someone had told me when I was a younger guy how important it is to maintain ties of friendship with those in your life, and not to put off getting in touch with those in your life who means a lot. As I write in my memoir, one of my life’s greatest gifts — a strong college friendship with NFL football player and coach Bob Taylor — remains also one of my big regrets. He and I parted ways as friends after college, and then life took hold of us both. When I did reach out to Bob in 2012, just after I was inducted into the Hall of Fame at my alma mater Maryland State College (now called the University of Maryland Eastern Shore), I learned that he had recently passed away following a period of illness. I never had the chance to reconnect with him and to thank him for his friendship — something that I have at least been able to do in my book. Friendship is an important thing — take it from me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you don’t want to make a mistake . . . then don’t do anything.” I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes, but I have also done a great many things in my life. No regrets.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Kamala Harris. She will be our next president.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
By searching the internet engines like Google, Yahoo, etc. or contact me via email at: [email protected].
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!