On any given night or Saturday morning between November and March, in any given elementary school, junior high school, or high school there is something very special happening. The sound of squeaky shoes, kids screaming, parents cheering, and coaches yelling can be heard in almost every school gym across Utah.
A Junior Jazz basketball game.
Not just "A" Junior Jazz basketball game, but hundreds of them scattered around the state of Utah and the neighbouring states of Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, and Montana.
The Junior Jazz program has a rich history, which goes back thirty plus years. It has become a part of who we are as Jazz fans, and really basketball fans in general. Unfortunately, there are Lakers, Heat, and Bulls fans that play Junior Jazz. Each of us has numerous stories that we can share, (I encourage you to share yours in the comment section) about winning, losing, meeting a Utah Jazz player, going to a Jazz game, "the glory days", ect. about our experiences as Junior Jazz players.
We are moving into the third generation of the Junior Jazz family. Assuming that there are some 47 or 48 year-olds that played junior Jazz 30 years ago. There are multiple benefits that come from the Junior Jazz program: cultural, financial, and social benefits for local communities, as well as individual benefits for each participant--- character, accountability, teamwork, and how to handle winning and losing to name a few. What are the are some of the cultural, financial, and social impacts of a program like the Junior Jazz. I will try and answer some of these questions in part one of this two part series.
The Junior Jazz as a Culture.
According to the article above, 1.3 million kids have gone through the Junior Jazz program. I don't know if that is 1.3 million different kids, or if that is 1.3 million total kids ( multiple kids, multiple years).
I can't imagine that after that first year the organizers of the program would have/ could have imagined what their tiny little project would turn into...one of the largest youth leagues in the United States, and the most tenured youth program in the NBA. Imagine the logistics of having 100's of basketball games, in 100's of venues, scattered over 1000's of miles, with 1000's of kids, being coached by 100's of volunteers. Culminating with all of these players and coaches attending a Utah Jazz game.
The program has become too big and too involved to fail. I mean this in the greatest way possible. Parents, kids, communities, volunteers, and schools need this program. They need it to survive, so they can survive. I will go into more details about this in part two.
The Financial Benefit of Junior Jazz
This is two-fold. My thought is that the Junior Jazz program does not make the LHM group a lot of money, if any. In fact, I would not be surprised if it is a loss leader for future products such as: tickets, events, merchandise ect. Much like gas at a gas station, the Junior Jazz program keeps bringing customers to the convenience store (or the ESA). The Junior Jazz program helps create life long Utah Jazz Fans. This is not done by accident, and is a very calculated and wise business decision. To be clear, I think that the Junior Jazz program's biggest goal is to help kids learn sportsmanship, build character, and learn how to win and lose with dignity. See below
As we prepare for another season to begin, I would like to take this opportu -
nity to welcome you to another year of Jr. Jazz Youth Basketball and to thank
you for your involvement. Speaking from experience,
I know that coaching can sometimes be a trying and a frustrating
experience; but without your hard work and commitment, this
program would not be the success it is today.
One thing I have been stressing to my players is defense. I strongly believe
that good defense is a crucial element to any team’s success. This could
help improve your team’s overall performance too.
Beyond the basic skills, I would like the kids to leave the season
with a sense of good sportsmanship and a feeling of accomplishment.
Naturally, some kids will have more talent and ability than others.
Nevertheless, it is important that every child feels that they are a
contributing member of their team – regardless of whether they win
But above all, let’s have fun. We must never forget that basketball after all is
just a game, and games are about having fun. Also, remember in coaching Jr.
Jazz that your success is not your win/loss record.
Good luck and thanks again for your dedication to this program.
Taken from the Junior Jazz Coaches handbook.
The Junior Jazz program is also a public relations move. I know that people throw the P.R. word around all the time, but this really is a P.R. move in a positive way. The Utah Jazz want to be involved with the community as much as the community wants to be involved with the Jazz. This is not some Golf Tournament where 200 people benefit, this is a full scale program that boasts 50,000+ kids a year. It is quite remarkable.
Schools benefit from the program when they host the nightly basketball games. These schools rent out their gyms or courts for a fee. This fee is then used at the school level. It allows schools to purchase extra supplies, new technology, books, ect. pretty much anything other than pay for teacher's salaries. These supplies are used to better educate students and give them even more access to information. Schools need this money. It allows them wiggle room in an otherwise tight financial situation. Junior Jazz and local schools is a perfect match.
The communities that participate in the program benefit greatly from Junior Jazz. A sense of community can be seen here. Local communities are able to participate and become part of a larger community (the state) and feel even more connected with their/the UTAH Jazz. It is not by accident that the Jazz are named after the entire state, and not just Salt Lake City. Local communities are able to take ownership in "their" team. I personally feel that is why the Utah Jazz have tried so long and so hard to put every game on tv. They want to help build their community fan base. Junior Jazz is another way of building the local community.
Summer Road Trip
Each year one or two current Utah Jazz players make the Summer Road Trip. This summer road trip is in some instances the only time that kids will be able to meet a professional athlete.
There are individual benefits that the participants and volunteers of the Junior Jazz program receive as well. Part Two coming next Sat.