Steve Young, Ziggy Ansah connected through charity work in Ghana

Young's foundation paved the way for BYU star

Published: Saturday, July 27 2013 8:25 p.m. MDT

Ziggy Ansah embraces his mother while wearing his cap and gown in his New York City hotel room.

Associated Press

ACCRA, Ghana — When National Football League Hall of Famer Steve Young started doing charity work in this West African nation six years ago, he had no way of knowing that some of his labors would play a major role in producing a future BYU defensive lineman, let alone a first-round NFL draft pick.

Of course, nobody on Earth could have predicted that a Ghanaian named Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah would burst onto the football scene the same way that he bursts into opposing teams' backfields. Ansah, an NFL rookie who was selected No. 5 overall in the draft last April despite having played football for only a few years, continued his improbable journey this week as he began participating in his first training camp with the Detroit Lions.

"It's a crazy story," Young said.

Young, and his Forever Young Foundation, unwittingly became part of that story — along with a cast of many others.

The former BYU quarterback established the Forever Young Foundation in 1993, when he was still playing for the San Francisco 49ers. After years of charitable giving, Young set up the foundation as a way of giving back on a larger scale. For 20 years, the organization has helped children throughout the United States battling life-threatening illnesses and inner-city kids whose opportunities are limited.

Young's close friend, Elder Robert Gay, who is currently a member of the Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, served as president of the Ghana Accra Mission from 2004-07. Elder Gay was determined to use his resources to help the people in Ghana. Also known for his work with Mitt Romney at Bain Capital, Elder Gay had started his own charitable organization, Engage Now Africa, in 2002. Engage Now Africa started collaborating with the Forever Young Foundation to assist people throughout the African continent.

Forever Young "is committed to fighting poverty, illiteracy, and disease in the countries of Ethiopia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Namibia. Through the funding of schools, microcredit loans, and humanitarian assistance, Forever Young and Engage Now Africa are empowering Africans to address their challenges with sustainable solutions," according to the organization's website.

"Bob had been a longtime supporter of our foundation," Young said of Elder Gay. "When he was over in Ghana, he began projects on schools and playgrounds, and did it through and with our foundation. So we became international at that point."

In 2007, the Forever Young Foundation began installing playgrounds, Sport Courts and artificial turf fields in Ghana.

The Forever Young Foundation built a Sport Court in Accra at the Golden Sunbeam School, owned and operated by members of the LDS Church — the Opare family. It is believed to be one of the first Sport Courts ever installed in Africa.

"It was the nicest basketball court in Ghana at that time," Sterling Tanner, president of the Forever Young Foundation, said of the Golden Sunbeam Sport Court. "We partnered with a group in the U.S. that generously made it possible for us to put in a beautiful, state-of-the-art Sport Court as well as an artificial turf soccer field."

"Those are things that just weren't around in Africa," Young said. "We put those kinds of things in place there. Now, the fruits have been enormous. I really appreciate Bob for getting us involved. One of the fruits is the story of Ziggy Ansah."

Ansah graduated from Golden Sunbeam and moved on to a different school because Golden Sunbeam did not have a senior high program at that time.

Even though Ansah did not attend Golden Sunbeam anymore, he spent a lot of time on the gleaming Sport Court to play basketball. Prior to that time, Ansah was a talented soccer player, but he had never played basketball. It was on that court at Golden Sunbeam that Ziggy learned how to play and honed his skills. He wowed onlookers with his ability to dunk the ball. At Presbyterian Boys School, Ansah became the MVP of his basketball team.

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