Being a reporter, I have the opportunity to meet people and experience some really incredible things. Occasionally, I also have the privilege of taking my children along for the ride.
My daughter, Maddie, is a feisty 14-year-old going on 21, and my son Colin, is a hyperactive 11-year-old who has no idea how to sit still for a second – neither of which I would change a thing ... well maybe.
I recently met with a gentleman who is taking on the world, literally, by starting a program where underprivileged youth are able to have the same experiences and opportunities as our children have in order to live up to their full potential.
In the small, quiet genealogy room in our local library in Ripley, I sat down to interview Tracy Justin Dempsey, affectionately known to his players as “Coach Dempsey.” He has founded the nonprofit organization, In Jesus’ Name West Virginia (IJN WV) with a vision to help as many underprivileged youth as possible.
How you ask? Through basketball for now, but he hopes to grow his organization further in the future.
Coach Dempsey grew up in Harts, West Virginia, and graduated from Chapmanville High School. After high school, he went to college and then law school where he volunteered at the Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia.
As we spoke about the organization, I asked him what about his time at Mountain Mission School made him want to bring this type of program to Ravenswood. I was humbled by his response.
He sat in silence at first. As he tried to speak, I noticed he had tears in his eyes. Here was this big, strong man trying not to cry. Wiping away his tears, Dempsey explained how his time at Mountain Mission School really inspired him – the way they helped so many and the amazing things they were able to do for the kids in Grundy, Virginia, a small town with a small-town West Virginia feel.
He told me about the man who started the school – how he went from rags to riches, not only monetarily but in heart and soul because of all the good he did and the lives he saved with his program.
“That is my vision, too – to help these kids out of situations that are bringing them down. I want to be a part of something bigger; that is my goal,” Dempsey said. “After searching for a private school in West Virginia for almost a year, Heritage Christian Academy captured me. They share in my vision.”
It was all I could do to restrain myself from becoming a blubbering mess. I was impressed with the sincerity the coach had shown, and the feeling I received from him was that he truly wanted to help the kids become better people.
Through basketball, he hopes to utilize the media attention that comes with a nationally competitive high school team to help fulfill his vision of being able to help dozens of kids per year.
Eleven players from all over the world have came to Jackson County to be a part of his team. Some are from America, while others came from the Congo, Lithuania, and Poland. One more is set to arrive from Senegal in the near future. The boys have been practicing and learning English while attending school at HCA.
I asked where the boys were staying. Dempsey told me they are staying with local families in the community. He said he feels blessed to have the support he has received from the community.
I also asked if the boys have had a chance to get out socially. Dempsey said the boys have been to Bridge Day, and they have attended some local football games as well.
Not only did I enjoy getting to interview the coach, but he invited me to attend their practice that evening. I told Dempsey that my son had already met a few of the players, and they had been amazing to him. I mentioned to him that Colin was a basketball fanatic and my husband was an all-state ball player back in the day. He said to bring them along.
I knew Colin would flip when I told him what we had been invited to do. The excitement on the kid’s face when I told him who we were going to see practice that evening was priceless. After re-attaching his lower jaw back to his mouth, he was ready to go.
My husband was not feeling well, so he stayed home, but we ended up with a plus one. Colin couldn’t contain his excitement and told his friend, DJ. Guess what? DJ just had to go too. No worries; he’s a good kid.
We pulled up to The Rock, the facility where the team practices, Colin and DJ barely let me park before jumping out of the car. As we entered the building, the smell of a well-used gym filled my nostrils. Yes, we were in the right place.
Dempsey met us at the door and took us to the court where the players were already practicing. He told the boys to sit wherever they liked and for me to do my thing as he continued his session with the team.
I proceeded to take photos as my boys watched in utter amazement. The athleticism of the team and their size alone was unbelievable to Colin and DJ.
I had a chance to speak with Rod Lanham, Dempsey’s assistant coach. I explained to him how Colin and DJ were loving every minute and soaking in all they could.
“These boys need to get used to kids being in awe of them. It is good to have them here. The players need to know they will be role models for younger children and they need to set a good example,” Lanham said.
He joined the team for more drills, and I continued to take pictures.
Every kid on the team has to be over 6-feet-tall, some by several inches. Dunking to these players was second to breathing. One of the drills had the boys making incredible slam dunks while bouncing off the rim. With every dunk I would hear, WHOA, or OH MY GOSH!
During a break, Colin was able to show off some of his moves. I couldn’t stop laughing because this time the “whoas” were not coming from Colin and DJ but from the players. Apparently basketball translates the same over many languages.
To say the experience was a good one for Colin would be putting it lightly, but it was something I enjoyed as well.
I can’t wait to watch the games when they start playing at home. I hope the community turns out to show them the support we show all our other athletes in this county.
I thanked the coach and players for giving me the opportunity to be a part of their team for the night and for the lasting effect they had on Colin. Yes, Colin, mommy does have a pretty cool job.