The 1990-91 NBA season will officially begin in November when the Utah Jazz take on the Phoenix Suns in Tokyo, Japan. At the same time, half the world away, the season will also begin for a portion of the over 35,000 boys and girls, ages 8-18, who participate in the Jr. Jazz Youth Basketball Program.
Probably the most visible of all public relations programs run by the Utah Jazz, the Jr. Jazz program, which began with a base of just over 7,000 kids in 1984, continues to see amazing growth, not only in the State of Utah, but in the surrounding states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.Jr. Jazz is a cooperative partnership with the Utah Jazz, local recreation departments and corporate sponsors to provide a positive, recreational sports experience for young people of participating communities.
Participants in Jr. Jazz play in organized basketball leagues with standardized rules at each level of play. Each participant receives a Jr. Jazz uniform shirt, membership card, participation certificate, and in some cases the option of attending a Utah Jazz home game.
Participating recreation departments also host a Jazz player clinic at their site during the course of the year. A Jazz player spends an hour instructing young people and their parents on the finer points of basketball while at the same time encouraging attendance at school and staying away from drugs.
Those children participating in the 8-11 age group leagues play in an "everyone plays" program while the older youth can participate in district tournaments and the opportunity to actually play a championship game in the Salt Palace Arena prior to a Jazz home game.
Dave Wilson, director of Youth Programs for the Jazz, says the biggest challenge that he faces in administering the Jr. Jazz program is the growth.
"This year, because of the national exposure of the Jazz, we have even had a request to offer Jr. Jazz in Hawaii, which we are considering," Wilson says. "We had several leagues in Montana try the program last year (Glendive, Anaconda, and Colstrip) and now this season most of Montana will be involved in the program."
Over the years Jazz players like Karl Malone, John Stockton, Thurl Bailey, Blue Edwards, Rick Johnson, Delaney Rudd, Bobby Hansen, Erick Leckner and staff members Rod Hundley and Ron Boone have all visited cities hundreds of miles from Salt Lake City to give clinics.
Jr. Jazz has helped reach out to the young people of the Utah Jazz market area. Most kids will never make it to the professional ranks, but everyone who plays in the Jr. Jazz leagues will at least wear a Jazz uniform, meet a Jazz player and experience the thrill of playing in an organized basketball league.
For more information on involvement in the Jr. Jazz program in your community, contact Wilson at the Utah Jazz office, 575-7800.