When Jeff Byrd walked into the Thurgood Marshall Middle School gymnasium last Wednesday night, there were smiles all around.
Byrd is the director of the Lynn Parks and Recreation Summer Basketball League and the players all know that while playing basketball with your friends is fun, this league is more about Mr. Byrd instilling in them the importance of teamwork and getting good grades in school.
Byrd has been involved in the league for more than 25 years. In reflecting on his position as head of the summer league, Byrd credited Lisa Nerich, director of the Lynn Parks and Recreation Department, for “making this opportunity possible, and a thank you to all of our sponsors for helping our kids.”
Virtually all of Lynn’s best high school players have played in the summer league that has 24 teams spread out over elementary, middle school, and high school divisions. Mr. Byrd’s son, Jarell (Wofford, West Alabama), played in the league, as did Antonio Anderson (Memphis, NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder), Dwight Brewington (Provdidence, Liberty University), and the Grassa brothers, Jasper (Bentley) and Nick (Salem State), to name but a few.
“We start the Monday after the Fourth of July and go all the way up to Aug. 1 when Pop Warner and Youth Football get underway,” said Byrd.
The games are played outdoors at the Lynn English and Breed Middle School courts. Last week the playoffs concluded in each division, followed by a trophy presentation ceremony and pizza party.
Byrd, who is 6 feet, 5 inches tall, played basketball at Lynn Trade (Lynn Tech) where he amassed close to 1,300 points in three seasons and stands as the school’s all-time leading scorer (His brother, Lou Byrd, is second all-time at Tech). Jeff later starred at Pacific Lutheran University in Seattle and earned a tryout with the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz, just missing out on a spot on the NBA roster.
“Basketball made me see the country and I got an education,” said Byrd. “When I was done, I came back to Lynn and started a program called the Lynn Youth Commission. I had [Lynn Classical state champions] Stu Primus, Sandy McGee, Tony Thurman, Meryl Brown, Pancho Bingham. They all started in eighth grade and continued on year after year. They all went D-1 after high school. I had Marcos Echevarria and Calvin Johnson before they won back-to-back state titles at Classical.”
“There is so much basketball talent in this city,” said Byrd. “And we just started a girls summer league, with [English] Coach Mackenzie Charles. They play Monday and Thursday nights. They have four teams in middle school and high school divisions. It’s a pilot program.”
Jarell Byrd is proud of his father’s basketball legacy in the city.
“My father got me started in basketball when I was five years old playing Sacred Heart CYO and I’ve played ever since,” said Jarell. “He’s done a lot for the kids of Lynn and I’m so proud of him. My father’s accomplishments [at Lynn Trade] say a lot especially since there was no 3-point line when my father was playing.”
Prior to playing at Division 1 Wofford College and concluding his college career at the University of West Alabama, Jarell played for national champion St. Thomas More School, where he was a teammate of current NBA player Andre Drummond.
“I was actually better in baseball, but I loved basketball,” said Jarell, who was an All-Star pitcher and home run hitter in the West Lynn Little League.
And there is a future Byrd waiting in the wings. Jarell’s young son, Javian, is being introduced to basketball.
And you know that Jeff Byrd will be guiding his grandson’s career, just as he has positively influenced so many Lynn players in the past and still today.