Memphis Business Academy’s Donny Buford improves grades, excels in track and field

Donny Buford woke up one day, knowing he had to figure it all out.

Even after he blossomed into a stellar athlete on Central’s High’s track and field squad two years ago, Buford’s mother, Keeley Jackson, felt it would be in her son’s best interest if he transferred to another institution, in large part so he could steer clear of the dangerous streets of North Memphis.

“He has a lot of outside things to deal with,” Jackson told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “Gangs, peer pressure, drugs, just a lot of things teenagers have to deal with everyday. We were trying to find something he liked.”

For starters, Jackson sensed that Memphis Business Academy, a Frayser-area-based charter school in Northeast Memphis, would be a suitable fit for her son. But not before Buford endured what he described as an assortment of “growing pains” upon his transfer.

Buford, 17, spent his entire sophomore year ineligible to compete in track and field because of poor grades.

“It’s like when I basically transferred from Central, I wasn’t paying attention in class,” Buford explained. “(MBA) is a big school and I couldn’t concentrate. It’s basically like I was a new student all over again. So when I came here, I had to adjust to uniforms and stuff like that.”

For Buford, who had come to view track and field as an outlet, of sorts, with regards to earning an athletic scholarship, sitting out last year benefited him mightily. Among the reasons is that the speedy 5-foot-7, 152-pound sprinter deemed it necessary to change his stagnant ways in the classroom so he could be reinstated back on the track team.

To his credit, his resilient work ethic ultimately resulted in him earning a spot on MBA’s track team this year. As usual, he was as good as advertised. Buford currently participates in four events: the 4 x 800-meter relay, 300-meter hurdles, 800-meter relay, and 1,600-meter relay.

Now that he’s back in familiar territory on the track — his sanctuary, as he tells it — he said his primary objective now is to help MBA compete for state championships. According to Buford, he attributes his reemergence in track and field to his determination in raising his stock in the classroom.

“I did my best the second semester (last year),” Buford said. “I just changed up a little bit of everything because I needed a 2.0 to run. And my coach made me go to tutoring.”

Initially, Buford took up track because he sensed it would enable him “just to stay involved” in an extra-curricular activity while in school. “I had nothing to do at home,” he said. “(Track and field) started as a hobby. But then once I started running,” it got competitive.”

As he completes what has been a memorable junior campaign, Buford primary focus is to continue to increase his grades and accomplish the necessary things that will enable him to land a track and field scholarship.

Looking ahead, he doesn’t plan to slow down on the track as he will likely to join an AAU team, something that is almost certain to create more exposure for a kid whose talents as a rising sprinter were discovered one day while in Physical Education class by MBA assistant track and field coach Jermaine Butler.

“He gave me my biggest break for track,” Buford explains. “One day, he asked me to go get another student so we could exercise and so I ran to get him.”

Fortunately for Buford, he sprinted hard enough to earn a spot on the team.

“When I came back from getting him, (Butler) said, ‘You run pretty fast. You can be on the track team.’ He kind of made me feel better because I knew that I had to work and that someone wasn’t going to just give something to me.”

Among the reason is that Buford woke up one day, knowing he had to figure it all out.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

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