by Charles Young SENIOR STAFF WRITER, WV News

May 26, 2021

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Two of West Virginia’s favorite native sons — a U.S. senator and the winningest coach in college football history — came together recently for an event benefiting West Virginia Game Changers.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban held a joint press conference to kick off The Game Changer Golf Classic and Prevention and Education Luncheon at The Greenbrier resort.

The Game Changer initiative, launched by Gov. Jim Justice in July 2020, is a “youth-led prevention, peer-to-peer influence, positive youth development and community enhancement organization designed to educate, support and empower teens to make healthy choices and become leaders,” according to information on its website.

The organization is primarily focused on combating the opioid crisis, but also works to educate youth about the dangers of tobacco, vaping, alcohol and teen suicide.

Manchin, who has known Saban since childhood, said he was pleased to join his friend in supporting such a worthy cause.

“It’s the children of West Virginia that bring all of us together, because we all are the children of West Virginia,” Manchin said. “The kids have a much more difficult time today than they’ve ever had before.”

Manchin said Joe Boczek, Game Changer coordinator, first approached him with the idea of joining Game Changers about three years ago.

“He started explaining to me what is what was and how we had to intervene in a child’s life at a very early age to make something happen and give them hope that there is a different pathway they can take,” Manchin said.

Saban, who recently won his seventh national title — his sixth with the Crimson Tide — said it was a “honor and a pleasure to come home” to West Virginia.

“I think this an ongoing problem that we’ve been fighting in many societies for a long, long time, and we certainly need to come together with a lot of new strategies that might help us correct some of these things,” he said. “I think this effort is going be something that may be able to make a significant impact.”

Saban was joined by his wife, Terry, a Marion County native and a former educator.

“I’m so proud to be a part of this,” she said. “Roll Tide and go Mountaineers.”

The Game Changer Golf Classic started last Wednesday evening with a reception and dinner. A celebrity golf tournament on the Old White Course was held last Thursday, along with presentations from prevention specialists and top educators in West Virginia and around the nation.

Proceeds raised from the two-day event will be used to continue and expand the evidence-based prevention programs being implemented in West Virginia schools through Help & Hope WV and the state’s prevention lead organizations.

Those who participated in the tournament include West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown, WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins, Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, former NFL receiver and current analyst Joey Galloway, former Heisman Trophy finalist Ryan Leaf, NFL receiver and Charleston native Ryan Switzer, Super Bowl champion fullback Johnny Davis and many others.