The Junior Jazz program is celebrating its 30th anniversary Wednesday night when the Hawks come into EnergySolutions Arena to take on the Jazz.
The program started in 1983 with a little over 7,000 participants. Today it boasts more than 50,000 participants annually in grades K through 12 in six states throughout the west. It is the longest running and largest program of its kind in the NBA and the Jazz are the only team that does a summer tour traveling to different Junior Jazz locations and holding clinics with the participants.
I am a proud alum of the program, having been a participant in kindergarten all the way through eighth grade and then working as an official throughout high school. Some of the best times of my young life were on those Saturdays in rec center gyms playing basketball with my friends.
I still remember those early years when they had the wristband system; you could only guard the guy on the other team who had the same color wristband as you. It was always better to play in the early games because by the time the afternoon games started those things were soaking wet with sweat from the players in the games before.
In our city they didn’t keep score until you got to the junior high level. My best friend and I were always on the same team and we made our moms keep stats for us as they watched so we knew who won and who the leading scorer was.
Winning was important to us but it wasn’t the only thing I took from it. I still have friends today from teams in third or fourth grade. That is the beauty of youth basketball; the ability it has to teach kids to work together, to be unselfish and to sacrifice your own wants for the greater good of a team. Some of those things can’t be taught as effectively outside of team sports and Junior Jazz provides the perfect setting.
I will always be grateful for what I learned in Junior Jazz and I still cherish those memories today.
We want to hear from you! What are some memories you have from your glory days of ballin’ out in the rec center gym? Share them in the comments here or go to the Jazz Facebook page and share.
It can be anything from the time you scored a basket for the wrong team or when you hit the buzzer-beating shot. Once you’ve done that, head down to the arena donning that vintage Junior Jazz jersey and cheer on the Jazz as they go up against the Hawks.