As engineering grads back in the late 1990s, Will Maloney ’95 and Chad Sutcliffe ’95 kept their ties to Notre Dame tight, if not in proximity. Rather than remain on campus, though, the pair took part in the Notre Dame Volunteer Program of Jamaica, a post-graduate program offered at the time. In Kingston, they taught physics and math at the all-boys St. George’s College secondary institution by day, and coached the basketball team after school.
Neither could have predicted their two-year commitment would become a journey of 25 years and counting. Now, that first team has grown into a free annual basketball summer camp for hundreds of youth players across Jamaica, and has even expanded to Haiti. It’s called Jumpball.
“I think people were interested that there were some Americans coaching the basketball team, so the turnout was amazing. We were able to field three different levels of teams,” Maloney recalls of that first year. “We realized that a lot more could happen from that.”
What began as a small summer basketball camp for 75 kids hosted by a few Jamaican alumni from Notre Dame in the summer of 1995, has become the Jumpball Basketball Programme. Today, it is still going strong with 300 players participating in Kingston each summer and hundreds more in other locations on the island and in Leogane, Haiti.
After two years of teaching at St. George’s, the duo continued to run the program from the U.S. alongside friends and volunteers in Jamaica. Jumpball is funded, in part, by the support of Notre Dame’s annual student Bookstore Basketball tournament.
The leadership and coaches at the camp are volunteers from both the U.S. and Jamaica, including the coach of the Jamaican Men’s National Team, Rick Turner, who got his start coaching in the country when he first volunteered with Jumpball. Maloney and Sutcliffe rely on a group of 30-40 local volunteers, and they travel to Kingston annually for the camp themselves. The organizers of Bookstore Basketball are also among the group of volunteers.
The Jumpball team runs a four-day clinic in Kingston as well as two-day camps in six other locations on the island. In addition to the expansion of Jumpball to locations beyond Kingston, another change over the past 25 years is the growth of female participation in basketball in Jamaica. Maloney estimates that about a third of the current campers and coaches are girls. In 2013, they expanded the program to Haiti through a partnership with Notre Dame’s Haiti Program.
They also offer a Jumpball Coaching Scholarship to one volunteer coach each year. “We’ve had everything from people who’ve gone to four-year colleges to a guy who wanted to go get his certification in truck driving. It’s for any sort of education,” Sutcliffe says.
Maloney and Sutcliffe manage Jumpball alongside their careers and lives at home. Maloney, who majored in environmental science and environmental engineering at Notre Dame, worked in environmental consulting for several years before returning home to Pearl River, New York, as the third generation to manage the family business, the Hilton Pearl River hotel. Sutcliffe, who was a mechanical engineering major, lives in Tampa, Florida, and works in international health care.
While both joke that neither of them can boast exceptional basketball talent, they do believe in the power of the game to teach life skills while also providing an opportunity for kids to have fun in the summer.
“Our mission statement is to provide the children of Jamaica and Haiti [with] the opportunity to learn self-esteem, teamwork, dedication, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and the fundamentals of basketball. And there's a reason why the fundamentals of basketball is the last thing in the mission statement — because it's not the most important part of this,” Maloney says. “Seventy-five percent of our volunteer coaches are former campers, and I think that’s the coolest thing in the world. You can start to see it in the eyes of the kids who are towards the upper age, which is 17. They really start to show leadership and look out for the younger kids in the camp. The fact that so many continue to show up — that’s the greatest endorsement of what we’re doing. It’s a family reunion of sorts every summer.”
Maloney and Sutcliffe’s children have even traveled to Jamaica to participate in the program their parents created all those years ago.
“I’ve got three kids and they each have been to Jumpball, which is a really cool milestone, right? Because we started this thing when we were in our 20s, and we’ve watched the Jamaican volunteers and, in many cases, their brothers and sisters and kids [get involved],” Sutcliffe says. “For Will and I to have our kids come down, this is amazing, a highlight of our lives.”
Both credit the partnership with their friends and colleagues in Jamaica as the main reason the program has succeeded for 25 years, and they hope that continues long into the future.
“I’d love for someday, my two daughters and Chad’s kids and a bunch of our younger current Jamaican campers to run this thing,” Maloney says.
Without the Notre Dame volunteer program that brought them to Jamaica, Maloney and Sutcliffe attest, Jumpball never would have happened. Both Maloney and Sutcliffe say that Notre Dame’s emphasis on serving others was part of the reason they joined the program and the impetus to create Jumpball with the community.
“That’s one of the things I’m proudest of my alma mater for, having a worldwide impact socially,” Sutcliffe says. “To be able to model that for our kids has been a great thing. As they grow up and see what Will and I are involved in and how many people [support Jumpball], they see that people give back to their community.”