Heritage IJN WV is one man’s vision coming alive in Jackson County.
Tracy Justin Dempsey, a former assistant at Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia, is starting a new basketball program through Heritage Christian Academy, Heritage IJN WV.
In Jesus’ Name West Virginia (IJN WV) is a nonprofit organization founded by Dempsey designed to help underprivileged children from America and countries around the world by providing them with the environment and opportunity to grow and become successful in life.
Originally from the small town of Harts, West Virginia, Dempsey spent several years at Mountain Mission School helping build their basketball program while attending law school. Following law school, he decided to put off his practice and devote one entire year to the school.
Inspired by Mountain Mission’s passion for helping underprivileged children and the amazing things they had accomplished, Dempsey decided to try to do the same thing here in West Virginia.
“I knew I couldn’t raise the amount of money needed to build a tuition-free dormitory school, so I decided to start a nationally competitive basketball program at a private school in West Virginia and use that program as a tool to raise money to help kids from America and around the world receive a better opportunity at life,” Dempsey said.
He checked into other schools in the area who had built high-level programs such as Huntington Prep and Teays Valley Christian. He knew building a nationally competitive high school team in West Virginia was something that was possible, so he started his nonprofit organization and began working toward his goal.
Once the nonprofit was underway, he then searched for a private school with his same vision. After almost a year of searching, he was introduced to Pastor Richard Parsons, Hal Bigley, and the administration of Heritage Christian Academy. HCA was the perfect fit.
“I could tell right away that they were just as passionate about helping children by giving them a better opportunity in life,” Dempsey said. “There are many kids that just need a new environment, as in a host family or private school setting, to have a chance at reaching their full potential.”
Taking the necessary steps to insure HCA could accept international students delayed the process a year. In June 2018, HCA’s international VISA permit was granted and Dempsey went to work gathering his team.
Dempsey currently has 11 players with one more to arrive in the near future. The players are from America, Congo, Poland, Lithuania, and Senegal. He believes the boys to be division one level players and a handful of them with the potential to be Power 5 Conference kids.
“The language barrier has been hard during practices.” Dempsey said. “I have interpreters translating to several other languages, mostly French, but it slows things down a little. They are learning though, these are great kids.”
Dempsey gives credit to the community for helping to make this program possible.
“Without the kindness and hospitality of this community, we would not be able to do what we are doing. From families volunteering to host these kids to others who have brought us food, and even lending me and four of the older boys a place to stay, we are very thankful,” Dempsey said. “Just the other day we had a woman drop off a big pan of lasagna. It was awesome. I am not a cook, unless it’s a fried bologna sandwich. I told one of the boys I would prepare him an Appalachian delicacy the other day, and I made him one. He gave it a 10 out of 10. That’s the extent of my cooking abilities, so having wonderful people bring us food has been a real blessing.”
With the help of his nephew, Paul Williamson, a former WVU Mountaineer basketball player, and his assistant coach, Rod Lanham, former coach for Ripley Middle School basketball, Dempsey hopes to have the boys ready for their first game.
“So far we have just under 20 games. I am wanting to continue scheduling other nationally competitive teams and showcase games, but I am trying not to over schedule this early because of the high likelihood of being invited to other national showcase games once we begin the season and people see the level of talent we have,” Dempsey said.
He practices with the team at The Rock in Kenna at least five days a week, several hours a day, to get them prepared for their upcoming season. The first couple of games will be in North Carolina on Nov. 16 and 17. Around the last week of November will be their first home game. At press time, the specific date and location for the home games was still being determined.
“The vision I have is to make this about more than just basketball. My vision is to not only turn this program into a nationally competitive team that puts kids into college and stresses the importance of seeking a high academic career, but also stresses the importance of helping others in need,” Dempsey said. “With all the distractions in life today, we sometimes forget to take time to try to leave the world a little better than when we entered it. That is my vision.”