EDITOR’S NOTE: Memphis loves Jason Buford. And Buford loves Memphis. So much, in fact, that three years ago, Buford founded Jr. Pro Sports, which enabled him to establish a close-knit relationship with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies through an organization called Junior Grizzlies. An organization that has flourished immensely throughout the Mid-South since its inception, Buford is devising ways to enhance his product on a national platform. Just recently, Buford spoke with MemphiSport NBA reporter Andre Johnson about his organization. Here’s a Q and A conversation.
ANDRE: You seem to really love basketball? Did you play in high school?
JASON: Yes I played basketball in junior high school at Havenview Jr. High School and played in high school at Hardin County High School in Savannah, Tennessee. My dad was a coach of Babe Ruth Dixie youth baseball for 16 years in Savannah, Tn. I’ve been around sports all my life. So, I love basketball but more than that I love being able to teach, mentor, and guide the kids in life lessons through athletics. My passion comes from the affects you have on increasing a child’s self-esteem, building their self-confidence or improving their talents.
ANDRE: What motivated you to start Jr. Pro Sports?
JASON: Jr. Pro Sports was started because my son was having a problem making his middle school team. I knew he was capable of playing because he played AAU against a lot of the best players in the city. I didn’t want my son to lose his passion for the game through the disappointment of rejection. So after creating the tournaments at my church, I decided to create a sports organization for kids like him who has the passion and ability but who are not making the team. It’s thousands of kids just like he was. It’s such a reward now to see kids that start in my organization move on to other organizations and becomes stars or make their middle school, high school, or college.
ANDRE: What is your organization’s mission?
JASON: The mission of Jr. Pro Sports is to create an organization that brings athletic programs to our children that inspires, develops, and encourage our kids in a positive, healthy, and uplifting environment. We aim to bring churches, schools, businesses, and government resources together to give our children more hope about their future. Mission- Jr. Pro Sports takes pride in seeing the vision of our clients’ and partners’ need in sports. Choosing the best direction to fulfill the purpose received with a combination of healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually athletic programs. JPS focus on producing results remarkably beneficial to all participants, partners, and parents.
Services-League, Tournament, Fundraising, and Clinic Development
-Managerial, Organizational, and Promotional Support
-Coach, Player, and Mentor Recruitment and Placement
ANDRE: When did you organize this organization? What are the age ranges?
JASON: I started Jr. Pro Sports in 2011 after talking with my family and praying for God’s direction in my life after losing my Job with the city. I had been working with kids of all ages at my home church Mt. Moriah East Baptist Church. Mt. Moriah East Church allowed me to operate the Jr. Grizzlies League my first year under their name. The demand and opportunities started opening new doors so I started Jr. Pro Sports. Dicks Sporting Goods, approved me for sponsorship the following year, this allowed me to bring business support to the children. Then my mom, sister, brother-in-law, girlfriend, church members, step out on faith with me to build this brand. I had felt such love and support. There is nothing like having your family believes in you and your dream. I felt like one of the kids in my league. My nephew was five years old and had a love for the game, so I started at that age and went to age 16. My son was 15 at the time so naturally I included that age group. So, I felt it was necessary to involve all ages.
ANDRE: On average, how many athletes do you generate annually?
JASON: I normally average between 60 to 125 kids annually that sign up under Jr. Pro Sports. Which comes out to five-to-12 teams under Jr. Pro Sports.
ANDRE: What are the various activities involved?
JASON: We have numerous activities (sports and non-sports) that have been included in the Jr. Pro sports programs. We offer training camps, tournament development or promotion, league or sports program creation. We have worked with the University of Memphis on Ashley Furniture Bracketville tournament during the Tigers’ games. Our partnerships have helped us include school supply drives, coat drives, pictures, blood drives, blood pressure checks, and food drives. All kids that have participated have received pictures, knapsacks, T-shirts, Grizzlies tickets and trips to the FedExForum to watch the players up close. I am so blessed to have my organization impact, influence and inspire over a 1000 kids to love and most of all play basketball despite their talents or ability. A lot of children nowadays play basketball on video games. I pride this organization on opening the kids to the joys of healthy physical activities along with making them all feel like winners despite their physical talents, abilities, and differences.
ANDRE: When does your organization’s season start and end?
JASON: We have started our registration drive. We will begin a six-week training program for the kids. This gives us time to evaluate the kids and to also start getting them in shape and introducing them to the rules and fundamentals of basketball. We start having games in November on Saturdays. We play every Saturday except holiday weekends for 15 weeks. We usually end around the end February or beginning of March.
ANDRE: Does it offer a summer program?
JASON: In the summer, we do training for the kids to continue to develop. We also do tournaments in the summer. We have been in talks with Building Block Mentoring Program to institute mentoring and educational programs within the athletics. I normally do two tournaments in the summer. This year I assisted with Team Penny tournament and we also had the Dicks Sporting Goods Sponsored JPS invitational in June.
ANDRE: How is your league cost effective?
JASON: I try to make the activities we do affordable for the parents that participate. For example, most AAU programs have initial fee of about $200-$350 and up. Then you have to start factoring in tournament and travel cost. My Jr grizzlies fees totals about $300-$400 dollars over a 4 month period which include jersey, shorts, shoes, grizzlies tickets, game entry fees, pictures, knapsack, and banquet fees. We try to make this as affordable as possible so all kids no matter their economic resources can afford to support and watch their child. Being as though this is a developmental league and a lot of our parents and kids have never been involved in sports programming like this, they aren’t quite as knowledgeable about the cost, time, and commitment it takes to support their child athletics. So I like to believe that my league is both parent and player development.
ANDRE: How does Junior Pro Sports stand out above other organizations similar yours?
JASON: Jr. Pro Sports stands out is our ability and willingness to work with other organizations to create sporting events. We also standout because we Accept all kids, not just the star players. In our programs we focus on recruiting the non-talented. What makes Jr. Pro Sports unique and different is the passion and perseverance of putting on great athletic programs without having a definitive home base or home gym in which to work continuously all year round. It’s been numerous churches that allowed us use and access to the facilities, while including their kids in the activities. This is vital that we have the churches support. They have the resources to make the events a positive and impact community success. We have worked with Mt. Moriah East Baptist Church, Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church, New Bethel MB Church, Berean Baptist, Oak Grove Church, Holy Nations Church, and One Accord Ministries. All of these churches pride themselves on being a community cornerstone in their neighborhood.
ANDRE: Describe your relationship/partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies.
JASON: We have had a partnership with the memphis grizzlies organization for the past 4 years. We organize, operate, and manage a developmental basketball league under the Jr Grizzlies name. They provide us with jerseys and tickets. We provide them with a community event for the kids of Memphis. They have been completely supportive of Jr. Pro Sports efforts to give these kids the best professional basketball experience possible. We have had use the fed ex forum numerous times to have before game jamborees, mini tournaments, & exhibitions for my kids and others. When I started with them, I was the only black organization in Memphis to have a Jr. Grizzlies league. I’m proud to be there first to introduce this program to our inner-city youth. I started in OrangeMmound at my church. Now we have teams and kids from Whitehaven, Orange Mound, Cordova, Raleigh, East Memphis, and South Memphis involved.
ANDRE: Anything else you’d like Memphians to know about Jr. Pro Sports?
JASON: The future and goals of Jr. Pro Sports to get more high school students exposed to college recruiters and find a multiple court facility we call home to develop all our programs consistently. But most of all, Jr Pro Sports wants to continue to build our kids self esteem, confidence, talent, and character through our mentoring athletic programs.
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.