“It’s not about sports,” says Jason Henzell as we stand in the center of the new Sports Park in Treasure Beach, Jamaica—“It’s about youth leadership.” Jason owns and operates the earthy-perfect Jake’s Hotel across the street with 50 rooms and two restaurants. That alone would be plenty for any one person to manage—but a gate could never contain Jason’s motivation. In a decade, he’s made Treasure Beach, and the south coast on the whole, not only a world-class destination—but also the island’s most vibrant, determined community.
We stand upon 17 bright, grassy acres of land that are, one persevering phase at a time, becoming the Caribbean’s most preeminent Sports Park. To have such a bold vision for such a rural area—is audacious. And to be making it happen—is astounding. When the land came up for sale in 2005, Jason called a local member of parliament and said, “If you buy it, I’ll build it,” and because confidence in Jason is unwavering, here and far beyond, the land was purchased within a week. Brilliantly, it’s all leased back to Breds—Jason’s non-profit operation—for a term of 50 years.
That was the beginning—and this is what happened next. Soon after he acquired the land, Jason was doing a TV interview about Jake’s and Breds. The final question to him was about the very nascent Sports Park—and the host asked Jason to give out his personal cell phone number, in case anyone wanted to help. Jason said, “I thought he was mad to ask me to give out my personal number on TV, but I was on the spot, so I did it. Then before I’d stepped off the set, my phone rang.”
It was Tony Davis, a Jamaican living in the UK who was on the island, had absolutely ideal experience for the project— and was looking for a way to come back to his homeland and make a difference. Jason invited him to Treasure Beach, and the next day, Tony was here. “Then Jason came to London straight away to see if I was for real,” Tony laughed, “and he was blown away by what he saw.” Tony built the Ten Em Bee Sports Development Center in a Jamaican area of South London. “I raised 1.2 million pounds and built a sports academy.” The key word is academy—because Tony’s complex combines both career and competitive development. In that, Jason found the model he needed, and the most ideal partner to make it happen. In fact, in telling this story, both of these endlessly generous men said to give the other most of the credit.
Through a relentless combination of local fundraisers, outreach to corporate Jamaica and the government, a series of clever 3:1 matches and bold requests—nearly 450K US has been invested in the Treasure Beach Sports Park so far. “I feel like I’m in politics campaigning,” Jason says with a laugh, but if he ever were to go that way, there’s no doubt he’d have massive effect.
This money has readied the land, built changing and restroom facilities, three cricket strips, two football fields, a state-of-the-art basketball court, a tennis court, a well for irrigation, a solar pump, sports equipment, a children’s play area—and even an onsite ambulance for first aid. There are plans for two more football fields—one for matches, one for training, three more tennis courts to make tournaments possible, a lounge pavilion with a clubhouse, bar and kitchen, a viewing pavilion, a full-fledged community center—and finally, a full ropes course to teach youth leadership and conflict resolution.
It is one thing to rattle off these assets, and another entirely to see them first hand and hear Jason and Tony describe their incredible future vision. Treasure Beach is about an hour and a half from Mandeville, the nearest decent-sized town, and the south coast of Jamaica is far from every other place you’ve ever heard of on the island. This place will change countless lives, and already has. As we walk through the property, Jason knows every single child’s name. There’s a basketball camp going on, and also a little girl practicing her dribbling, “You’re using two hands, right?” Jason asks and she replies, “Yes, Uncle Jason.” He’s Uncle Jason to a lot of people.
Tony says, “There are a number of young people who are not as successful as they should be, and we have to do something about that. So we create the thing they love—sports, then add discipline, mentoring and empowerment. We show kids that sports can be a career beyond being an athlete. They’re not aware of sports journalists, agents, landscapers, certified coaches, personal trainers.” So the aim of this place goes infinitely beyond a place for kids to play—because this area needs so much more. The ultimate goal is to create sports tourism, which is genius. Seventeen years ago, Jason started a triathlon in Treasure Beach that brings people from all over, and teams from places as disparate as the Bahamas and Philadelphia have already come for tournaments and camps. It’s all just starting, but it’s actually happening.
At some point, none too far from now, Treasure Beach will be known as the fittest place on the planet. Time to gear up.
Here’s where to go to learn more (and you must):
Digging Jamaica? Visit the 100m Shop and get your jerk-reggae-patois-sunshine fix. (Sunscreen recommended.)