WARREN — As Michael Engram attempted to put together the fifth annual GameChangers GC-360 Summit, he was faced with plenty of challenges.
With the pandemic ruining any chance of bringing dozens of student-athletes together, as the event has done each year, Engram realized this year’s seminar would be drastically different than others.
He also realized it might be the most important.
“This, of course, is a year unlike none other,” said Engram, the founder of GameChangers. “With COVID, we don’t have sports as much. In the absence of sports, you get to peel back some of the layers — like what else is going on with this person’s life? What are they doing outside of basketball, football and things of that nature? I believe that’s when things like what we’re doing now really shines through.”
The GC-360 Summit, which is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., was created by Engram to help high school student-athletes prepare for the next level — of life more so than sports.
The 1996 Warren G. Harding graduate wants young men and women to understand the different obstacles they could be facing — on and off the field. The conference discusses how to balance finances, use social-media etiquette, maintain health and wellness, present proper job interview techniques and learn business strategies, among other topics.
And it’s not just Engram sharing this wisdom. A former football player at Harding, Engram brings in pro and college athletes along with executives and professionals in all different fields to cover an array of subjects. This year, Chicago Bears offensive lineman and Harding grad James Daniels will speak along with former MLB draft pick Austin Byler, WNBA player Tyasha Harris and track and field star Brittany Brown, who placed second in the 2019 world championships in the 200-meter race. Those are just a few.
“I’m super glad of the diversity we have, all across the board if you look at the panel, in respects to different sports,” Engram said. “Last year we had (NFL players) Derek Rivers and Darrin Hall, and it was kind of just football. This year, we were able to connect with someone from the WNBA as well as the NFL, track and major league baseball. That’s what I love because it allows us to really go out there in the field (of different sports).”
The pro athletes will be one of three panels presented.
There’s a business panel with speakers from different job fields — a pilot, an assistant athletic director, a branch manager at a mortgage company and a vice president of a major advertising and public relations company.
The final group will be made up of college athletes, including a few from the Mahoning Valley. Dayshanette Harris, a former Ursuline High School star basketball player now competing at Pitt, will speak along with football player Keevon Harris (LaBrae High School and now at Ohio University), track and field runner Aisha Jackson (Warren G. Harding and now Central Michigan) and Kaleb Romero, a four-time state wrestling champion at Mechanicsburg High School who now competes at Ohio State.
They will discuss much more than sports, Engram said, but athletics will play a role, just as they did in teaching many of the panelists some of important attributes that carried them to their current status.
“If you look at even some of the professional athletes that have gone on and used their platforms, especially now with social justice and voting and so many other things, that’s made from the sport,” Engram said. “That’s character. That goes to your DNA of who you are. So, my hope is that before any of our high schoolers ascend to adulthood, or playing sports at the collegiate level or the professional level, that they make sure that their core is right. Your core is where it matters.”
Because of the pandemic, the athletes will be speaking virtually through YouTube. Students will be able to ask questions live to participate and interact with the panelists. Those interested can find out more information by visiting GameChangers’ Instagram page: GCthenewathlete.
The interactive medium was the only way Engram could hold this year’s event, one that means a lot to him. He said former Harding football coach Phil Annarella, who passed away suddenly last year while holding the same position at Austintown Fitch High School, is a big reason for his passion toward this event and guiding today’s youth.
He hopes he can make a similar impact as Annarella.
“To me, I believe that it’s incumbent upon our generation, the 30-to-40-year-olds, to really continue the legacy of a lot of good core values that we were taught growing up — that hard work, that discipline,” he said. “For me, I was very fortunate enough to have a great mentor in coach Annarella before he passed. I’m not everywhere, but I can definitely say that there’s not a lot of men like that. For me to make sure that I can echo some of those same sentiments as far as the hard work, discipline, character — that’s what I want to make sure that we’re continuing to push.”