Mexico has had its share of showmen and with a career that spanned from 1910-1960, few exemplified that like professional wrestler Jack Clayburn.
You could also say Clovis Swinney was cut from that same cloth considering he spent 14 games with the New Orleans Saints in 1970 before suiting up for the New York Jets for another four contests in 1971.
But, perhaps one of the biggest names you've never heard of to graduate from Mexico High School in 1993 was Chad Wilkinson, the Chief Executive Officer of American International Sports Teams. What AIST does, in part, is make dreams come true. That's because, after spending one year at Lindenwood University playing football and baseball, Wilkinson transferred to Avila University to further his interests in baseball, which led to playing two seasons in Belgium and one in Brisbane, Australia.
While these experiences led to Wilkinson coaching college baseball for six years in the United States, it also led to him providing tours and coaching in Western Europe according to aist.us. Eventually the end result was Wilkinson put his coaching duties aside and started AIST and began running it full-time.
"We rarely take a baseball team anymore. Kids these days are too caught up in leagues and showcase events. They are missing out on a much bigger picture," Wilkinson said. "Traveling abroad and competing in International competition is life changing. Our biggest sports are Softball and Girl's lacrosse. We also do Basketball, volleyball, field hockey, soccer, ice hockey and can do several other sports if there is interest."
In his time as a Bulldog Wilkinson used to start his school year in the fall by playing football for Geoff Moore. After that he'd take the court for Boy's Basketball Coach Keith Miller in the winter before finally winding down the school year in the spring on the diamond playing for former Mexico Varsity Baseball Coach E.G. Raney.
"Depends on the sport, (but) we mainly play club teams from local areas we travel too. In some cases we will play National teams," said Wilkinson. "Just recently one of our College lacrosse teams played four different national teams in a tournament that we go to every year in Prague, Czech Republic. They took third place."
Expenses are different for every athlete in that some pay out of pocket while other are involved with various fundraising efforts. The one thing they all have in common is that each individual is responsible for their own costs. In exchange, beyond the athletic experience these athletes also get sightseeing excursions, transportation guides and full-time tour managers for their purchase price.
"We have many coaches. We send a coach to travel for free with every team we put together. This year we had 22 select teams travel to tournaments all over the world in several different sports," Wilkinson said. "I only have three full time employees but I have five to seven part-time recruiters/tour managers that help the growth of our AIST select teams."
Another things that's adapted with time is that with the changing of the sports has come a new clientele. Specifically, what used to be a business based around the game of baseball is now much more skewed toward softball and girls lacrosse, meaning what was once a man's domain has now become women's territory.
"The select teams are about 70 percent of our business. We also do team tours from NCAA Division I, II and III," said Wilkinson. "Most recently we had four Division 1 NCAA volleyball teams travel in 2018. In 2020, we will have close to 15 team tours from all levels of college/high school teams. The growth of our team tour business has been the biggest growth over the past two to three years."
One of the ways Wilkinson has been able to bridge all the gaps is by hiring the part time individuals he has. His choice in part-time instructors who have such strong current full-time positions can only serve to strengthen the position both sides are on, such as current Columbia College Associate Director of Operations for Volleyball Aleah Hayes. University of Mary Washington Associate Director of Operations for Women's Basketball Deena Applebury also appears to be a key hire.
"We started taking lacrosse teams in 2007. Since then the sport has grown so much it's become the biggest part of our business," Wilkinson said. "We've been building relationships with college/club coaches for the past 12 years and it shows with the number of Lacrosse teams we take yearly. In 2019 we have nine lacrosse teams traveling. There are several tournaments throughout Europe. I just returned (last Tuesday) from Lisbon, Portugal from the Lisboa Cup Lacrosse tournament."
The growth of lacrosse, in Wilkinson's eyes, at least in the overseas version of the game, is a real bonding experience, perhaps because of the physical nature of things. Another reason for the games newfound awakening is that it's being taken up by boys, girls, men and women and, other than basketball, that doesn't happen all that often.
"We also take teams every year to England/Scotland/Ireland - Paris/Antwerp/Amsterdam and Munich/Prague," said Wilkinson. "The growth of this sport has spread to so many colleges/high schools and countries in the past 10 years. The biggest thing I see in both men's and women's lacrosse is that is like a fraternity. Just like this tournament I was just at, after the competition, everyone hangs out and trades their USA jersey's for jersey's from all off the other countries."
The trading doesn't stop at just material items, though. Foreign players are also hoping to exchange Facebook, Instagram and other, similar information with American athletes, they want the ability to text and call one another and, when possible, even donate their time to their cause.
"They swap phone numbers and connect with social media and will have memories for a lifetime. In this most recent event, we even picked up some Russian, German and English players to play with our Men's team," Wilkinson said. "The guys were fantastic together and built friendships that'll last a lifetime. Sports builds a unique bond that helps bridge gaps. Playing internationally just brings people closer together and helps everyone have a better understanding of the world around them."
One fact of life that will always exist in regards to international travel is there are dangers associated with it. Add to that the extra risk involved with getting hurt because of the athletic endeavors and the various unknowns might be enough to make some run for the hills, But, Wilkinson has obviously dealt with similar issues and knows exactly how to navigate those types of situations.
"If you play sports, you know the risks. It's like not traveling because your afraid of something terrible happening. You can't live life like that," said Wilkinson. "You have to experience as much as you can in your lifetime. Sure, sometimes your going to blow out a knee, but at least you have seen the world and not stayed in your room."