How the Coach’s Final Teaching Will Impact Long After His Death
By Keisha Katz
Dr. Jack Ramsay, known in the sports community as a Hall of Fame coach and a greatly respected broadcaster for ESPN covering the NBA, has died at the age of 89 after years of battling cancer. His long coaching resume included Navy, St. Joseph’s University, the Philadelphia 76ers, Buffalo Braves, Portland Trailblazers and Indiana Pacers.
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) April 28, 2014
His work with youth development in his later years was not heavily broadcast, but his impact away from professional basketball was felt perhaps even more greatly than his on-court legacy. The Jack Ramsay UpTempo Basketball Volunteer Coaches Certification Program launched in December 2013. This initiative taught the fundamentals of basketball to more than 300 volunteer basketball coaches and game-lovers in Harare, Mutare, and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The program, in partnership with the Africa Outreach USA Foundation, an international not-for-profit organization, was the first of its kind in the country and within the African region.
“Dr. Jack was a unique individual with a huge heart & great love for the game of basketball. His impact has been felt across the world going as far as Zimbabwe, where kids have benefited from his generosity and kindness,” said Gus Chikamba, President and Founder of Africa Outreach USA Foundation. “He will be missed. May his soul rest in peace.”
It is as if Ramsay and Chikamba were destined to cross paths. Chikamba and his wife came to the United States in 2000. After a visit to their native country in 2008, they returned with a vision that they were eager to share. The idea was to give the young people in Zimbabwe the game of basketball, a game that Chikamba fell in love with at an early age.
“I first touched a basketball at the age of the 14, and I first owned a basketball at the age of 30 in the United States,” said Chikamba.
Chikamba and his wife had befriended Dr. Ramsay’s daughter, Sharon O’Brien and her husband Jim, who was an NBA head coach at the time. The O’Brien’s supported the cause early on and spread the word to Dr. Ramsay.
“I remember very well the first question he asked us was ‘What can I do for you?'” said Chikamba. “He is one of the rarest individuals that I’ve ever come across. Very humble.”
In the Spring of 2012, The Jack Ramsay Grassroots Basketball Development Clinic was born and with support from the Pacers Foundation, Valley Mills Christian Church, and the University of Indianapolis, more than 100 basketballs were donated. Sneakers, uniforms and other resources were also provided.
The following year, the Jack Ramsay UpTempo Basketball Volunteer Coaches Certification Program began to not only equip players, but implement skills training. The annual program incorporates Dr. Ramsay’s conditioning workout, and explains everything from defensive techniques to basketball basics. By bringing the game into the communities to reach children in need, the program is used as platform to teach young people about widespread social challenges and issues within the community like HIV/AIDS, gender imbalance, issues with education and faith in God.
“It takes somebody with a huge heart to go out of his way and to be apart of a program of this magnitude,” said Chikamba.
Each volunteer participant receives a copy of Dr. Jack’s UpTempo Basketball instructional DVD, a certificate signed by the Hall of Famer and an original Indiana Pacers jersey after passing an open-book exam. Then it’s time to play. The newly ordained coaches are charged to go back to their neighborhoods and begin their own youth leagues. In December 2014, Chikamba and his wife will return to Zimbabwe, and in the years to come they hope to bring the program to other countries as well.
The life and legacy of Dr. Ramsey was reflected upon in an article posted today on ESPN.com by his son, Chris Ramsey, who is also working to collect donation items for the program. In the article he explains that even when his father was very ill, he found joy in knowing that his love of basketball was contagious. The excerpt below details a moment last year in which Dr. Ramsey received a DVD of young children on a less-than-ideal basketball court in Zimbabwe performing drills.
“The camera panned away from the action to a sign on a fence that said, ‘The Jack Ramsay Grassroots Basketball Development Clinic.’ As his life was ending, a hopeful project with his name on it was just beginning. Part of his legacy is there, on a basketball court in a clearing on the other side of the world.”
To find out more about the Jack Ramsay UpTempo Basketball Volunteer Coaches Certification Program, click here.