Jim "Basketball" Jones is a very popular man.
The Northwood resident, a native of Melrose Park, Ill., juggles basketballs for a living. But that's not the entire story.
During his peformances, Jones delivers motivational messages to his audience about learning to deal with and overcome learning disabilities. Jones, 43, was diagnosed with dyslexia near the end of his first grade year.
According to the Web site www.ldonline.com, dyslexia is a language-based learning disability.
Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing and pronouncing words.
Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person's life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations or extra support services.
Jones, who played basketball and football at Avon Lake High School, said he was always "a relentless ‘practicer’” when it came to sports.
"My brain works well to understand movement. I'm very visual," he said. "I can understand movements of the body and what makes it move. I'm a really good shooter. In football, I had great form even though I wasn't big. The mechanics of things, I could see them and break them down.
"My dilemma was the written word and understanding sounds. Reading over my elementary school things, I didn't understand the sounds of the vowels in second grade. If they were to say the sound of a vowel or a letter, a lot of times I couldn't point to the letter for that sound. I had dyslexia with (the letters) B and D through fifth grade."
Having a learning disability at that early age brought on other difficulties in school, even though Jones admitted he was a happy kid.
"Everybody I was around enjoyed me," he said. "Teachers enjoyed having me. I did get frustrated with kids and got into some fights through elementary school, just because kids would pick on me. I was constantly picked on. I was 5-foot-2 and 125 pounds in fifth grade and my parents shaved my head, and I was an easy target."
Jones developed his juggling and dribbling skills in the ninth grade, and by his sophomore year he was doing dribbling exhibitions. He performed a talent routine at a camp in Wooster, Ohio, and by age 16 he was performing at halftime of Cleveland Cavaliers games.
During his performances, Jones juggles four basketballs and also spins eight basketballs at once.
"I'm vertically challenged, not that athletic," said Jones, who makes about 350 appearances annually. "I found a career in basketball. I still get to play with the ball and, most important, talk with kids about enduring through life and working hard."
Jones will be at Oak Harbor High School on Sunday, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. in the auxiliary gym. Doors will open at 2:30 p.m. and admission is $1 for everyone. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Wanda Sautter, program coordinator for B-C-S Community Education, is thrilled to have Jones come to Oak Harbor.
"A lot of different groups have used him at different times and been impressed with him," Sautter said. "Children and adults alike are encouraged and inspired by his message. Basically, he took the basketball skills and worked and worked until he mastered it. He took what we consider a handicap and used that skill with a lot of hard work. He just impresses on the kids to never give up."
Jones said his main motivation is to communicate with and influence children in a positive way. His shows last one hour.
"The basketballs are a way to get to the kids and make it fun," he said. "A lot of my lessons are taught through doing something, and a lot of kids can grasp that. I have a special way of communicating with people where they understand it and retain it."
His first performance was 11 years ago at Immaculate Conception School in Port Clinton.
"When I was done," Jones recalled, "Sister Rita Kramer at Immaculate Conception said, 'Jim, this is what you're supposed to do. I e-mailed 80 of my friends, so you may be getting a call.' It ballooned from there. I went from 12 shows a year to 80 to 270. From that point, I've been doing 350 shows a year."
Jones didn't let dyslexia hold him back. After graduating cum laude with a business degree from Bowling Green State University in 1987, he earned a Master’s degree in business from Ohio State University in 1991.
Jones went into business doing outdoor deck work and selling and installing carpeting, but he sold those businesses a few years ago to concentrate on being Jim "Basketball" Jones and bringing his message to as many people as possible.
"It's not about your gifts and struggles, it's about how hard are you willing to work," Jones said. "What's beautiful is, when somebody takes whatever they have and tries to make that the best. It's beautiful to see."
For more information on Jim "Basketball" Jones, visit www.jimbasketballjones.com.
B-C-S Community Education invites everyone attending the Dec. 14 program to enjoy a free one-hour open swim at the Oak Harbor High School pool immediately after the program. The holiday special is sponsored by B-C-S Community Education and the Acorn Alley childcare programs.