Austen Ancell from the Pahrump Valley High School golf team was selected as the latest athlete from Pahrump to be invited to compete against other athletes from around the country in Australia.
According to his mother, Dajon Ancell, he is thus far the only golfer from Nevada going on this trip.
Down Under Sports is a company that arranges for American athletes to go down to Australia to compete in sports at the high school level each year.
The company invites athletes from all over the country to participate in the following sports: football, wrestling, volleyball, golf, cross country and track and field to compete in competitions in New Zealand and Australia.
Ancell is the top golfer from the Pahrump Valley Trojans as a sophomore. He was selected by a panel to attend this trip, according to Brian Pella, vice president of Down Under Sports.
For Ancell, this will be the trip of a lifetime.
Ancell said he will be doing a lot of fundraising in addition to his already heavy schedule. His biggest fundraiser will be on May 24 at Lakeview Executive Golf Course. The cost will be $30 for non-members and $15 for members.
Ancell practices golf every chance he gets and has been playing the sport since he was 8 years old. He said the money for the tournament has been steadily coming in and more than likely he will make his goal to make the trip.
“Most of the donations are from golfers that I have met at Lakeview,” he said. “I have been playing golf here since I learned how to play the game.”
Ancell has no problem playing the game. He led his team with a 5-over par 77 last Monday at Mountain Falls. He is very consistent this year and still has two more years to go. His goal is to be a PGA golfer one day.
Down Under Sports has been in business for 28 years and numerous athletes from Nye County have made the trip and yet the questions always come up, like is this trip truly an honor or is it a scam? In other words, is this company preying on wealthy parents and is the whole company just a glorified travel agency?
After an extensive conversation with numerous coaches and athletes that have competed and a long conversation with Pella, the conclusion is no, the company is not preying on athletes and is not looking to scam families of wealthy athletes.
Trojans Coach Craig Rieger participated in Down Under Sports in 2000 and said the organization did a great job.
“I had a great time,” Rieger said. “I coached the Nevada/Texas wrestling teams. Down Under Sports is a good company. Nice people. It was a great trip and I got to see a lot of Australia.”
Rieger added that the competition was good from all over the United States and he said that year Neil Cowley was on the Nevada team (2001 state champ for the Trojans). He also likes the way that Down Under selects its athletes.
“The selection is done by coaches,” he said. “They recruit a coach from each state and that coach looks at top state performers.”
Other athletes from Nye County have gone on this trip in the past.
Ashley Gray was a top shot putter from Tonopah High School last year and participated in the track and field element of the Down Under Sports program.
Trish Gray, her mother, was very satisfied. She said overall the organization was informative and supportive. There was a significant amount of information available on the website and in the hardcopy mailers. The travel planning was excellent and extremely thorough; Ashley had no issues with any of the staff and/or chaperones.
“I believe the experience is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event for most athletes as I am not certain the average family would be able to afford the cost of competing over multiple years,” she said. “The schedule is intense and typically very full with practices, competitions and excursions.”
The only thing she said Ashley was disappointed in was she didn’t feel she received the individualized coaching attention and/or instruction implied.
“From her perspective, the shot put competition was judged more strictly than Nevada meets and there wasn’t a significant focus to assist the athletes who were struggling with the change in form standards,” Trish Gray said.
Trish Gray said interacting with other athletes from different geographical regions was an amazing cultural experience for her daughter and her daughter still corresponds with several of her teammates to this day.
The mother felt the price tag is expensive but completely manageable through fundraising if notified in a timely manner.
“Although the cost is significant, the experience and lifetime memory is priceless,” Trish Gray said.
Pella said his business is a family owned business. The founder, George O’Scanlon, fell in love with athletics, especially American football. He grew up in New Zealand and grew up watching movies about the great American football player Jim Thorpe.
According to Pella, that’s how he fell in love with football. He then tried to start a league in New Zealand. That was almost impossible. The equipment was hard to get and expensive. It was hard to get people to play because they play rugby down there and they think American football is not that tough because we wear all the pads. So the whole business stems from Scanlon’s efforts to import football to New Zealand and he has a few humorous anecdotes.
When they did first start the league, they didn’t have enough equipment for both teams. One team got the shoulder pads and the other team got the helmets and then they switched at halftime. The kids that had the pads would complain because they didn’t like wearing the sweaty, stinky helmets.
Pella said Scanlon eventually came up to America in the early 80s to solicit equipment.
“He was up in America going to colleges and high schools to get equipment so he could introduce American football to Australia,” Pella said. “One of the schools he stopped at was Utah State University. At that time my father was the head coach there, and his name was Chris Pella.”
Pella said his father was more than happy to help Scanlon out. Chris Pella had a lot of experience with exporting football to other countries.
“My dad was the athletic director for a Japanese team called the Yokosuka Seahawks,” Brian Pella said. “He helped organize the first Tokyo Bowl.”
He said Chris Pella helped get the sport of football in Japan and so he knew what George was going through and he told him to come get some coaching experience and hired him as an assistant.
While Scanlon was here he got the idea to bring American football teams down to Australia. He thought he could create some interests in American football. From there, that is how Down Under Sports started.
The first athletes to play in Australia were all football players.
Pella said the organization brought five all-star football teams down to play five Australian all-star teams.
“Back then, we had people like Jake Plumber playing,” he said. “After that, other Australian sports asked us to bring other American teams down because they were tired of losing to the Americans in football.”
According to Pella, American parents would tell them that their kid had an amazing experience playing football and then would say their daughter plays volleyball, do you have an opportunity for her to have this experience too? He said back then they had to say no.
“The Australians wanted us to play basketball because they were tired of being beaten in football,” Brian Pella said. “They would tell us bring a basketball team down and we will kick your butt.”
Brian Pella said the selection process is something that Down Under pays close attention to.
“We select our athletes very similar to the way a college would,” he said. “We have so many spots available and we send out a handful of invitations. And if an athlete accepts, great, if not we continue down the list until we get our team filled. We try to get athletes from small schools as well as big schools.”
Brian Pella said practically every top athlete gets invited but not all can go.
“Unfortunately there are coaches that know nothing about our program that choose to make their own judgments,” he said. “For example in wrestling we have 128 spots available, if they take a spot or not, we keep going until all the spots are gone.
If the kid wins at state then I don’t need information from coaches, I know that that’s an athlete I want to invite.”
In Australia, sports are done differently than here. Most of the teams that compete are club teams.
“It varies by sport how well the Australians do,” Brian Pella said. “Obviously in football we have the advantage but the Australians are doing better. When we first went down we beat them with a basketball score, 90-40. Now the games are close and they have come a long way.”
Down Under regularly invites coaches from the United States to coach American all-star teams.
“We have had Jeff Knutson as a football coach and the Bishop Gorman coach,” Brian Pella said. “We would get different coaches to coach an all-star team. That is how Craig Rieger, Trojans wrestling coach, went.”
In track and field Down Under used the qualifying meet for the Commonwealth games or the 2012 Olympics.
“The neat thing is we go by age,” he said. “Our athletes will only have to beat athletes in their age group, but they can run against some of the top athletes.”
The coach that organizes the track and field for Down Under is Sharon Henley, who is the director of the track and field.
She coached Sally Pearson the former Australian Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter dash in 2012. They have the competition at Griffith University and will routinely have 500 to 800 participants from America, Australia and New Zealand in attendance making for one heck of an experience for all the athletes participating.
The bottom line is as a company Down Under Sports is in the business of acknowledging the young athletes for their accomplishments.
“We know what the athlete has done,” Pella said. “Not many people recognize and take time to recognize these athletes.
“We make people feel comfortable with the process.”