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Stories about Basketball and North Carolina go together like dogwood trees and spring. This year’s fourth annual MLK Dream Jam is one such unfolding story readers will be remiss to miss attending. The MLK Dream Jam will be held Jan. 13 and 15 at the Terry Sanford High School Gymnasium.

Doors open at 11 a.m. both days and all day tickets are $10. Kids under 5 years old are free.

Starting in 2019, the MLK Dream Jam is a Fayetteville-held basketball tournament between public and private schools throughout the city. With bragging rights, pride and opportunities for exposure on the line, high school students from public schools are matched against fellow athletes from their private school contemporaries in a yearly tournament to display their talent, skill and abilities on the court. Not only is it an opportunity to settle personal beliefs of which team is better, but it also stands as a chance to impress scouts from more prestigious organizations such as those in The National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Karl Molnar, former coach and partial founder of the event, is a key player behind the realization of this idea. From coaching Terry Sanford basketball to setting up job training for students with learning disabilities and special needs at local schools, Molnar has expressed his passion for opening up paths and opportunities for the youth of today and the generations to come. Speaking on the purpose behind the MLK Dream Jam, Molnar stated,

“It’s to get these kids the opportunities they deserve. It allows the entire basketball community to come together as a whole and compete together. One big issue that comes up while coaching is the constant fluctuation of players. Kids change teams and go to others for better opportunities. So with this, those kids still get to play together and compete with one another once a year for those bragging rights. It’s to bring the local basketball community together and shine a spotlight on our local players.”

Originally designed as a fundraiser for Terry Sanford sports, the event has since evolved to become the budding community staple it is today. This year, the leading role has been passed from Molnar to head coach of the Terry Sanford girls’ basketball team, Chris Goodman. Goodman has worked alongside Molnar since the tournament’s inception and has had a hands-on role in the development of the organizational methods, networking, and event direction. Together, with their passion and genuine care for the players, Molnar and Goodman have gone above and beyond in crafting one of the most exciting sports experiences in North Carolina.

“When it started, I’d hope it’d be a community event everyone looks forward to. In 10 years, we’d be packed with coaches, people, and players. We did that the first year!” said Molnar about his vision for the future of the event.

“My favorite memory of the event happens every year, honestly, but it was most impactful the first time. As I was watching the games, realizing that there was only standing room at that moment, that the place was filled to the brim with people. It was surreal," said Molnar.

The MLK Dream Jam’s fourth year positions itself to be one with intense competition. With both private and public schools reaching for glory, the competition between local schools will be fierce.

Normally, private and public school teams do not play each other in the regular season as they are not in the same competitive circuit. However, as any competitor knows, this arbitrary barrier does not stop rivalries, connections, and friendships from being made between players on both sides of the education system.

Many players hop from team to team with the aim of placing themselves in a position to take advantage of the tools and opportunities their new team’s organization might offer to them. This regular migration of players, while posing a challenge to coaching staff and tournament organizers, is one of the exact reasons for the event and part of the thought process that goes behind creating the event’s tournament bracket.

“Molnar had a vision of bringing all the Cumberland County school teams together under one roof, public and private.” Goodman said. “We consider things like each individual player’s history, their connections with other teams and players, and their abilities. Things like ‘Is there a player that used to play at the opposing school?’ ‘Do these players have friends on the other team they normally wouldn’t get to play against?’ We also like to consider the physicality of the teams so as to better pair them with their opponents so that the game is fair, competitive, and fun for everyone to watch,” continued Goodman.

However, an event of this caliber isn’t easy to organize. Goodman talked about the communication with the local coaches and how they are largely focused on the regular season for their teams rather than a local tournament for bragging rights.

As previously mentioned, issues with communication is only one aspect of the difficulties dealt with when developing the tournament’s bracket. The process from start to finish is one of continuous communication with the basketball community, negotiating with event sponsors, reserving the basketball courts for the tournament and personal dedication from the tournament’s organizers and helpers.

All that effort, time, and devotion to the love of the game of basketball pays off, however. Each year, fans, coaches and community members are treated to a high-energy tournament fueled by the drive and determination of those on the court.

Goodman mentioned that we should be keeping an eye out for the number one ranked female high-school basketball player in the country, Sarah Strong. Playing for Grace Christian School in Sanford, Strong has helped lead her team to a dominating 15 – 0 record this season as a forward on the girls’ varsity basketball team.

“I’m looking forward to the competitiveness. This year, I think the private schools are stronger, but the public schools always play with a bit more heart,” said Goodman.

When it comes to supporting the next generation, youth sports, and the local community, the team behind the MLK Dream Jam are helping lead the charge towards more sustainable avenues facilitating success and prosperity for the children and young adults of society in Cumberland County.

The Dream Jam will be held in the Terry Sanford Gym. Parking can be found in the school lot or along Ft. Bragg Rd. Refreshments will be available to purchase from Rocket Fizz.

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