Local man’s love for basketball helps kids succeed
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RIGBY — Sean McDonald loves basketball, and his love for the game is turning kids into athletes.
Jump Start Sports Academy is near U.S. Highway 20 at exit 325 north of Rigby. Since McDonald opened its doors two years ago, kids across eastern Idaho have been meeting there five days a week for basketball training courses. Coaches divide the kids into age groups and work with them collectively and individually to teach them different aspects of the game.
“Dribbling, footwork and the rules of the game are the first part (of the class),” McDonald tells EastIdahoNews.com. “The main thing is ball-handling skills.”
Each class lasts about an hour. The academy is open to kids of all ages, but its main focus is helping aspiring athletes take their skills to the next level. Many students have benefitted from participating, and McDonald says it’s rewarding to see their progress.
“We have a kid who didn’t make the seventh-grade team last year and then turned into a starter this year for the eighth-grade team and is one of their best players,” McDonald says. “We can’t take all the credit for that, but we complemented his efforts.”
As the academy celebrates its second anniversary this month, McDonald says he’s pleased with the response. With more than 130 students enrolled, the academy continues to grow, and an expansion project is already underway.
The inspiration for Jump Start Sports Academy began several years ago. McDonald was involved in his kids’ basketball teams as a volunteer, and he noticed a recurring trend among the players.
“They struggled with fundamentals,” he says.
Expensive camps from out of state were one option for kids who wanted to improve, but McDonald wanted to offer something different.
“If kids want to pay to drink out of a firehose — just get as much as you can in a two-day period — I just haven’t seen the results that you want with that type of model. It just doesn’t work,” he says.
McDonald and his coaching staff now provide focused training to kids between 4 and 18 for $40 a month. Each coach at Jump Start is a college athlete.
Chapman Tagg is the head coach and a player for the Rexburg United Vikings, a basketball team made up of Brigham Young University-Idaho students who compete with surrounding junior colleges and amateur teams. Tagg started working as a Jump Start coach about a year ago while attending school, and he says McDonald’s passion for the sport is contagious and is making a difference in the lives of the kids.
“To see the younger generation get excited about playing basketball is awesome, and it all stems from the top,” Tagg says.
McDonald considers the academy a community project, and he says he’s never taken a dime for it. He’s been saving funds for future expansions, which began last fall. Ground was broken on a 7,200-square-foot building that will soon house a full-size court with bleachers and nearly triple the size of the current space.
“It’s going to be larger than a high school court. A high school court is 84 feet long. This one will be 94 feet like an NBA court. We even purchased a floor that’s a former NBA G-league court, the Santa Cruz Warriors’ old floor,” he says.
Several interruptions in construction have delayed the project a bit, but McDonald is hoping it will be complete by the end of the summer.
Once it is complete, McDonald wants to start a league to give kids in the class an incentive.
“We have to have some kind of league to complement what’s going on in the classroom,” he says. “You really need to play the game as you’re learning about it.”