Following a defiant seventh-round knockout of previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12...
A Scoring Machine With A Good Future
Antwon Mc Queen, a graduate of Jefferson played with Nets guard, Jason Kidd at the University of California, and Michael Gill was the Most Valuable Player in the National Invitational Tournament. Kenard Ballinger, a ninth grader, is the latest protégé that is reaping the benefits, academically and athletically.Washington, D.C. — Coach Keith Spinner at Thomas Jefferson Junior High in southwest, D.C. has nurtured countless student-athletes, and won five city basketball titles.
The road to greatness began at Anthony Bowen Elementary in the fourth grade. Kenard started at small forward and won two regional titles. “I like offense, defense and the intensity of the game,” he tells B.A.S.N. Advancing to the next level, he met coach Tony Perry and played for the number four D.C. Metropolitan Boys and Girls Club basketball team. At 12, Kenard earned M.V.P. honors in the Forestville Boys and Girls Club “Keep The Peace” Tournament, by tallying 29 points against Forestville Middle School. The next two years he gained more experience, lost a championship game to Kingman Boys and Girls Club, and has earned 10 basketball trophies.
At Jefferson in 2004, the soft-spoken teenager, suffered a minor setback, comparable to Michael Jordan’s encountered in high school. Kenard got the axe in basketball. He was informed that he didn’t have the skills or talent. This stunning report landed him at the King Greenleaf Recreation Center. Kenard made a commitment to work on his grades and game under the guidance of Marcus Ellis, site manager. “ He was young, in trying to make a veteran squad at Jefferson, but my staff let him know that his time was going to come, and that he had to continue to work hard,” says Ellis. He listened attentively, stayed focused and worked on his left –hand religiously.
In eighth grade, the young determinist improved his speed, jump shots, lay-ups, and ball handling skills. The Trojans compiled a 6-2 record and lost to Francis Junior High, 54-52, in a semi-final war. Off the bench, Kenard ripped the nets for 16 points. During the summer, his stepbrother, Antonio Logan-El, a chosen participant, invited him to the Keystone Basketball Camp in Pennsylvania. “ The whole camp was interesting and I learned the basic fundamentals of basketball,” said Kenard.
During the 2005-2006 season, Jefferson was riding high until the end. At 8-0, and 14-3 overall, the Trojans won the D.C.I.A.A. Junior High League Title against Shaw, 55-52. The long arm-shooting machine registered 14 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, 1 steal and blocked four shots. For a student-athlete, who’s made progress, he has the capabilities of becoming an assassin on the court. “He wants to win, he’s extremely coachable and his work ethic is never in doubt,” Coach Spinner verified. While averaging 17.2 points per game, Kenard hit 22 against Hines during the regular season.
The first round of the playoffs, Jefferson played Fletcher Johnson on February 14. Ballinger, a 5 foot 10 shooting guard, glided to the basket for easy lay-ups, graciously. He hustled and played unselfish basketball. “I get my teammates involved to avoid the confusion,” he says. The Bob “Butterbean” Love look alike can leap, and passes the ball well. In an 82- 54 disaster Kenard scored 26 points with a smile. “ We did good against an undefeated team, and we hope to have a better team sooner or later,” says Coach Sylvester Bynum. “That kid is an excellent player with potential to move to the next level.”
Playing along side of Kenard for years is John Mgaza, the Trojans floor general. “He’s like a brother, we encourage each other in school and on the court, says Mgaza, who averages 10 points and nine assists per contest. Meeting Hines, in the semi-finals Ballinger became more vocal, made steals, and scorched the nets from the corners of the floor. In harmony, the Jefferson fans chanted “Look Up At The Score Board-We’re Going To The Ship.” In a 68-55 victory, Ballinger raked in 21 points. Carlos Baucum, a 6 foot 3, ninth grader netted 21 points in a losing effort. “ I should have attacked the basket earlier and Ballinger played good,” says Baucum.
Kenard loves Math and Science. Maintaining a 2.7 G.P.A., he habitually studies after school in study hall. “Without good grades, you can’t play sports and it’s important to know how to read, write and count,” he says. Enrolling at Carroll, Paul V1 or Potomac High in McLean, Virginia are all possibilities. In college, he has a desire to major in Accounting and become a Sports Agent. “ He’s my number one student, a very nice gentleman, who sits up front in class and handle his business,” says Dr. Anthony Antoniswami, the Algebra 2 instructor at Jefferson.
In the D.C.I.A.A. junior high finale, Jefferson met Francis. Kenard came on offensively in the second half, a little too late. The opposition spoiled the party as Francis triumph, 50-41. Even though, Jefferson weren’t victorious, Coach Spinner and staff has prepped an all around player, in Kenard Ballinger.
Like in the past, he will be working out at the neighborhood recreation center challenging the older guys. Playing A.A.U. Basketball is of great importance to him. Living in a three- bedroom apartment, LaToynia Ballinger is raising three kids. She molded her son into a leader and family makes him who he is today. Kenard is smart, productive, persistent, funny and likeable. “ I am so proud of my son, he’s going somewhere in life,” says the mother. There are two pairs of sneakers underneath his bed. In due time, they’ll be plenty more. “My talent comes from God,” Kenard realizes.
When Jefferson has a successful student-athlete, they have to attribute their success to their parents, teachers, administrators and the custodial staff, who spend many hours of overtime, freely. Kenard humbly says, thanks to Jefferson and his coaches.
All photos by: ROBERT EUBANKS