Running toward the future
When Sparty and Felicia Jordan started the IBTT “I’m Better Than That” Blazers, their goal was to help youths embrace track and field while finding their worth as individuals by teaching them to not be discouraged by others’ expectations of them.
Starting with eight participants in 2007, including the Jordans’ own kids Nina and Dontonio, the team has ballooned to over 150.
Nina Jordan decided she didn’t want to run for her club team anymore, so the Jordans told Nina and Dontonio to grab three friends apiece so they each could have a relay team.
Now the team competes in Texas Amateur Athletic Federation and USA Track and Field meets around the state.
“Most of the people running with us seven years ago are still running today,” Sparty Jordan said. “We had 75 last year and we doubled this year. It’s totally bizarre. We were expecting our normal 75, but it was overwhelming. That’s why we have a lot of volunteers, with most being parents. It takes a lot of people to make it be successful.”
Practicing at tracks around the Denton area with the support of local high school coaches, parents and volunteers, the Jordans wanted a low-cost activity for the summer with a focus on education.
“It’s our goal that when all these kids leave here that we want them to get to the next level,” Felicia Jordan said. “That’s why we started doing the scholarship stuff. It takes me a long time, but I sacrifice and do it so I make sure they get in school because we were the parents watching our son sitting at the computer with tears in his eyes with no college letters from anybody.
“I know what a lot of these parents are going through, so we’re giving back. We figured out how to do it. God gave us the wisdom and knowledge, and we’re using it for all the kids here.”
Dontonio Jordan, now 20, is a student at Stanford. The Jordans also have helped students go on to Northern Colorado, Tulsa, Arkansas Tech, Temple and North Texas.
“We’ve gotten a lot of different connections now with different coaches and personal contacts that we make,” Sparty Jordan said. “They come out to practices and evaluate them. It goes all the way up to Division I to junior college. They may not get a full scholarship, but they will get some kind of scholarship.”
Sparty, who ran track and played football in high school in Panama City, Panama, met Felicia at Henderson State, where Sparty also ran track.
Now in telecommunications, Sparty spends much of his spare time on the track, because that’s where he feels most comfortable.
“It’s an honor to be a mentor for these kids,” Sparty Jordan said. “We talk about a lot of different things out here. It’s not just track. They learn how to win. They learn how to lose. They learn to be humble in winning and losing. We’ve been very successful, this year especially. We tell the kids, ‘We’re doing well this year, but we want to remember the days when we’re struggling.’”
The Blazers competed at a TAAF state meet in Corpus Christi last year and had 14-year-old Guyer student Logien Franklin break a Texas record in the 14-and-under 100 meters.
The team has athletes qualified for the USATF state meet Tuesday through Saturday in San Marcos and will be running in the UTSAF National Junior Olympic track meet July 21-27 in Humble.
“At the local meets, they just hand out ribbons, but you should see the effect that giving certain kids ribbons has on them,” Sparty Jordan said. “It’s like they’ve won a million dollars. You can’t believe how their confidence grows. It’s just a ribbon, but they’ve never had that before. Most teams wouldn’t allow them to run; they have tryouts. Most teams want to win, but we’re not like that — all kids are going to participate in every meet. We’re not hiding kids because they may not be good enough to win.”
Along with building confidence on the track, the Jordans are working to strengthen self-esteem in the classroom.
“It started with a group in Dallas and we would go out to the recreation center and invite kids to have fun,” Felicia Jordan said. “We would get in a big circle and we would speak to them about how they were better than the statistics than they put on you — meaning, they see how you’re going to drop out of school, how many are on drugs. We want to portray a different image.”
Raising money through donations, fundraisers and garage sales, as well as giving some out of their own pockets, Felicia and Sparty made sure the team was free to join.
“Most of it is a lot of hard work and saving,” Felicia Jordan said. “The parents have especially been a big help.”
When Felicia was growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, she was made fun of for living in public housing.
She told herself that when she got older, even if she didn’t have money, she would at least donate her time to help others shed negative stigma.
“We just didn’t have a lot. People portrayed this image of us that if you live in apartment complexes then you were poor,” Felicia Jordan said. “They called us ‘ghetto.’ We just survived, and that’s the way most of the kids were in our area. A lot of the older kids get it. I let them know that they are the ones the little kids are following. I think all the kids are catching on to it pretty well. They’re getting the message. They know it’s not all about winning. It’s about doing the best that you can do.”