Johnson to Visit Africa to Promote AIDS Education

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Johnson to Visit Africa to Promote AIDS Education

BATON ROUGE – LSU men’s basketball Coach Trent Johnson will leave June 4 for the Nkomazi region of South Africa for a 10-day goodwill mission to help teach the sport of basketball to coaches and players as part of the TRIAD Trust program.

Fans can follow Coach Johnson and the progress of his efforts during his trip on Twitter @LSUCoachJohnson.

TRIAD, an acronym for “Training to Reduce the Incidence of Aids-Related Death,” was established to stop the transmission of HIV through culturally relevant, locally sustainable health and life skills education-based programs in communities affected by HIV/AIDs in a region on the border of Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa where the disease claims far too many lives.

TRIAD uses sport as an avenue for health education, and has created a program that combines youth soccer and basketball leagues with HIV tests and medical lessons. A high-tech fingerprint scanning system tracks children’s HIV tests and attendance at practice and health lectures. If they miss these sessions they are not allowed to play in games that week.

“There’s not that many kids that enjoy being in a classroom. You have so much energy you’d rather be running around. Once somebody is on a competitive field, no matter what sport it is, you are safe from whatever is going on in the outside world,” said Sarah Kate Noftsinger, Director of Sport and Professional Programs for TRIAD.

It was Noftsinger, a former assistant soccer coach at Stanford when Johnson was the head basketball coach there, who thought of her friend when she needed help. After all, they bonded on the court at athletic department dodge ball games.

“I really admire Trent as a coach, father and role model,” Noftsinger said in a story that appeared late last year in The Advocate when the possibility of a trip was first announced. “His dodge ball skills may need some work, but otherwise, he has tons to offer.”

That tons to offer has included basketballs that Johnson has had shipped to help the organization and the wearing of red ribbons by the LSU staff on World AIDS Day this past season. Johnson also passed the word along to some of his coaching friends who also wore the red ribbons in support of the Day and the effort that people like Noftsinger are trying to accomplish.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity that has been given to me,” said Johnson, deflecting in his usual way any tributes toward his friend Noftsinger and the overall program. “I’m just trying to do my part to help in any small way, regardless of where that may be. I’m hopeful that I can be of some help and benefit to the program.”

Noftsinger was a four-year starter in soccer at Wake Forest, who played professionally in the WUSA before a fluke collision on the practice field results in a broken neck. It was at that time that TRIAD Trust was looking for replacements for members of the U.S. Women’s National Team who had been scheduled to visit South Africa but had to cancel because of a game conflict. Some of the players who knew Noftsinger recommended the trip to her.

After three-weeks there, she was offered a position as TRIAD’s first full-time employee and she made a life-changing decision to give up playing the sport she loved and to turn her life to fully help others.

“Everyone is so happy,” she said of the people she comes in contact with in South Africa. “It’s hard to explain. They have nothing, but they are still so happy. My first reaction wasn’t shock and trauma or the thought that this place is hopeless. It was that this place actually has hope and you can actually do something because they have the resources.”

The TRIAD Nkomazi Rush Mission that Johnson will visit was established in 2009 dedicated to educating children, young adults and adults with comprehensive understanding of HIV/AIDS, while empowering them with the necessary life-skills to make healthy lifestyle choices. The TRIAD Nkomazi Rush is also dedicated to developing facilities suitable to the organization and conduct of the games.

As of December 2009, the Rush had over 3,500 members participating in the region’s first professionally organized, locally managed and unified sports league.

“The game of basketball has brought a lot of joy to people all over the world,” said Johnson. “I’m looking forward to teaching the game and bringing more joy to the people of South Africa.”

Benefiting from international partnerships, the Rush is able to import coaching experts from around the world to educate its local coaches and administrators with the necessary knowledge to properly develop their players and organization. It is the Rush’s vision to develop players and coaches professionally and athletically so that members have opportunities to play at the next level.

One of the keys to the success of the TRIAD program is that it lays the foundation for a successful program and trains local leaders to run the day-to-day operations themselves. In this way, TRIAD creates jobs for adults in the community in addition to providing medical education for the children.

“You can’t teach a kid to walk unless the fall on their face,” Noftsinger said. “They have to do it themselves. I stay down there long enough that the local leaders gain confidence and I help them problem solve, but I leave when they are at the peak of their confidence. They spend the next six to eight weeks running it, and they stumble and have programs, but they have to be the ones to solve them. Then I will come back and help them take the next step.”

About those basketballs Johnson sent to Noftsinger?  He might even see a few purple and gold balls bouncing at TRIAD Rush on his trip as they were used for clinics at the end of last year in rural South Africa. One thing is for sure, the LSU Coach is ready to lend a hand.